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Science. 2013 Dec 6;342(6163):1193-200. doi: 10.1126/science.1239999.

Functional roles of pulsing in genetic circuits.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA.


A fundamental problem in biology is to understand how genetic circuits implement core cellular functions. Time-lapse microscopy techniques are beginning to provide a direct view of circuit dynamics in individual living cells. Unexpectedly, we are discovering that key transcription and regulatory factors pulse on and off repeatedly, and often stochastically, even when cells are maintained in constant conditions. This type of spontaneous dynamic behavior is pervasive, appearing in diverse cell types from microbes to mammalian cells. Here, we review recent work showing how pulsing is generated and controlled by underlying regulatory circuits and how it provides critical capabilities to cells in stress response, signaling, and development. A major theme is the ability of pulsing to enable time-based regulation analogous to strategies used in engineered systems. Thus, pulsatile dynamics is emerging as a central, and still largely unexplored, layer of temporal organization in the cell.

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