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PLoS One. 2010 Aug 26;5(8):e12314. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012314.

Trade-offs and noise tolerance in signal detection by genetic circuits.

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Department of Condensed Matter Physics, Science Faculty, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2010;5(9)doi: 10.1371/annotation/1c817cc7-4fb8-4fd5-a9c6-04b8d0e6c3fb..


Genetic circuits can implement elaborated tasks of amplitude or frequency signal detection. What type of constraints could circuits experience in the performance of these tasks, and how are they affected by molecular noise? Here, we consider a simple detection process-a signal acting on a two-component module-to analyze these issues. We show that the presence of a feedback interaction in the detection module imposes a trade-off on amplitude and frequency detection, whose intensity depends on feedback strength. A direct interaction between the signal and the output species, in a type of feed-forward loop architecture, greatly modifies these trade-offs. Indeed, we observe that coherent feed-forward loops can act simultaneously as good frequency and amplitude noise-tolerant detectors. Alternatively, incoherent feed-forward loop structures can work as high-pass filters improving high frequency detection, and reaching noise tolerance by means of noise filtering. Analysis of experimental data from several specific coherent and incoherent feed-forward loops shows that these properties can be realized in a natural context. Overall, our results emphasize the limits imposed by circuit structure on its characteristic stimulus response, the functional plasticity of coherent feed-forward loops, and the seemingly paradoxical advantage of improving signal detection with noisy circuit components.

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