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ACS Synth Biol. 2013 Aug 16;2(8):431-41. doi: 10.1021/sb300098w. Epub 2013 Mar 7.

Retroactivity controls the temporal dynamics of gene transcription.

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Electrical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


Just like in many engineering systems, impedance-like effects, called retroactivity, arise at the interconnection of biomolecular circuits, leading to unexpected changes in a circuit's behavior. In this paper, we provide a combined experimental and theoretical study to characterize the effects of retroactivity on the temporal dynamics of a gene transcription module in vivo. The response of the module to an inducer was measured both in isolation and when the module was connected to downstream clients. The connected module, when compared to the isolated module, responded selectively to the introduction of the inducer versus its withdrawal. Specifically, a "sign-sensitive delay" appeared, in which the connected module displayed a time delay in the response to induction and anticipation in the response to de-induction. The extent of these effects can be made larger by increasing the amounts of downstream clients and/or their binding affinity to the output protein of the module. Our experimental results and mathematical formulas make it possible to predict the extent of the change in the dynamic behavior of a module after interconnection. They can be employed to both recover the predictive power of a modular approach to understand systems or as an additional design tool to shape the temporal behavior of gene transcription.

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