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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Sep 16;6(9). pii: e1000935. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000935.

Thermodynamics-based models of transcriptional regulation by enhancers: the roles of synergistic activation, cooperative binding and short-range repression.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.


Quantitative models of cis-regulatory activity have the potential to improve our mechanistic understanding of transcriptional regulation. However, the few models available today have been based on simplistic assumptions about the sequences being modeled, or heuristic approximations of the underlying regulatory mechanisms. We have developed a thermodynamics-based model to predict gene expression driven by any DNA sequence, as a function of transcription factor concentrations and their DNA-binding specificities. It uses statistical thermodynamics theory to model not only protein-DNA interaction, but also the effect of DNA-bound activators and repressors on gene expression. In addition, the model incorporates mechanistic features such as synergistic effect of multiple activators, short range repression, and cooperativity in transcription factor-DNA binding, allowing us to systematically evaluate the significance of these features in the context of available expression data. Using this model on segmentation-related enhancers in Drosophila, we find that transcriptional synergy due to simultaneous action of multiple activators helps explain the data beyond what can be explained by cooperative DNA-binding alone. We find clear support for the phenomenon of short-range repression, where repressors do not directly interact with the basal transcriptional machinery. We also find that the binding sites contributing to an enhancer's function may not be conserved during evolution, and a noticeable fraction of these undergo lineage-specific changes. Our implementation of the model, called GEMSTAT, is the first publicly available program for simultaneously modeling the regulatory activities of a given set of sequences.

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