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Mol Syst Biol. 2008;4:203. doi: 10.1038/msb.2008.43. Epub 2008 Jul 15.

The incoherent feed-forward loop can generate non-monotonic input functions for genes.

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Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


Gene regulation networks contain recurring circuit patterns called network motifs. One of the most common network motif is the incoherent type 1 feed-forward loop (I1-FFL), in which an activator controls both gene and repressor of that gene. This motif was shown to act as a pulse generator and response accelerator of gene expression. Here we consider an additional function of this motif: the I1-FFL can generate a non-monotonic dependence of gene expression on the input signal. Here, we study this experimentally in the galactose system of Escherichia coli, which is regulated by an I1-FFL. The promoter activity of two of the gal operons, galETK and galP, peaks at intermediate levels of the signal cAMP. We find that mutants in which the I1-FFL is disrupted lose this non-monotonic behavior, and instead display monotonic input functions. Theoretical analysis suggests that non-monotonic input functions can be achieved for a wide range of parameters by the I1-FFL. The models also suggest regimes where a monotonic input-function can occur, as observed in the mglBAC operon regulated by the same I1-FFL. The present study thus experimentally demonstrates how upstream circuitry can affect gene input functions and how an I1-FFL functions within its natural context in the cell.

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