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Cell. 2012 Oct 12;151(2):320-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.08.040. Epub 2012 Oct 4.

Designing synthetic regulatory networks capable of self-organizing cell polarization.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


How cells form global, self-organized structures using genetically encoded molecular rules remains elusive. Here, we take a synthetic biology approach to investigate the design principles governing cell polarization. First, using a coarse-grained computational model, we searched for all possible simple networks that can achieve polarization. All solutions contained one of three minimal motifs: positive feedback, mutual inhibition, or inhibitor with positive feedback. These minimal motifs alone could achieve polarization under limited conditions; circuits that combined two or more of these motifs were significantly more robust. With these design principles as a blueprint, we experimentally constructed artificial polarization networks in yeast, using a toolkit of chimeric signaling proteins that spatially direct the synthesis and degradation of phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-trisphosphate (PIP(3)). Circuits with combinatorial motifs yielded clear foci of synthetic PIP(3) that can persist for nearly an hour. Thus, by harnessing localization-regulated signaling molecules, we can engineer simple molecular circuits that reliably execute spatial self-organized programs.

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