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PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 May 8;10(5):e1003614. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003614. eCollection 2014 May.

Reciprocal regulation as a source of ultrasensitivity in two-component systems with a bifunctional sensor kinase.

Author information

1
Analysis and Redesign of Biological Networks Group, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Magdeburg, Germany.

Abstract

Two-component signal transduction systems, where the phosphorylation state of a regulator protein is modulated by a sensor kinase, are common in bacteria and other microbes. In many of these systems, the sensor kinase is bifunctional catalyzing both, the phosphorylation and the dephosphorylation of the regulator protein in response to input signals. Previous studies have shown that systems with a bifunctional enzyme can adjust the phosphorylation level of the regulator protein independently of the total protein concentrations--a property known as concentration robustness. Here, I argue that two-component systems with a bifunctional enzyme may also exhibit ultrasensitivity if the input signal reciprocally affects multiple activities of the sensor kinase. To this end, I consider the case where an allosteric effector inhibits autophosphorylation and, concomitantly, activates the enzyme's phosphatase activity, as observed experimentally in the PhoQ/PhoP and NRII/NRI systems. A theoretical analysis reveals two operating regimes under steady state conditions depending on the effector affinity: If the affinity is low the system produces a graded response with respect to input signals and exhibits stimulus-dependent concentration robustness--consistent with previous experiments. In contrast, a high-affinity effector may generate ultrasensitivity by a similar mechanism as phosphorylation-dephosphorylation cycles with distinct converter enzymes. The occurrence of ultrasensitivity requires saturation of the sensor kinase's phosphatase activity, but is restricted to low effector concentrations, which suggests that this mode of operation might be employed for the detection and amplification of low abundant input signals. Interestingly, the same mechanism also applies to covalent modification cycles with a bifunctional converter enzyme, which suggests that reciprocal regulation, as a mechanism to generate ultrasensitivity, is not restricted to two-component systems, but may apply more generally to bifunctional enzyme systems.

PMID:
24809699
PMCID:
PMC4014401
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003614
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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