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Annu Rev Biophys. 2013;42:605-27. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-083012-130335.

Modeling gene expression in time and space.

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Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.


Cell populations rarely exhibit gene-expression profiles that are homogeneous in time and space. In the temporal domain, dynamical behaviors such as oscillations and pulses of protein production pervade cell biology, underlying phenomena as diverse as circadian rhythmicity, cell cycle control, stress and damage responses, and stem-cell pluripotency. In multicellular populations, spatial heterogeneities are crucial for decision making and development, among many other functions. Cells need to exquisitely coordinate this temporal and spatial variation to survive. Although the spatiotemporal character of gene expression is challenging to quantify experimentally at the level of individual cells, it is beneficial from the modeling viewpoint, because it provides strong constraints that can be probed by theoretically analyzing mathematical models of candidate gene and protein circuits. Here, we review recent examples of temporal dynamics and spatial patterning in gene expression to show how modeling such phenomenology can help us unravel the molecular mechanisms of cellular function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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