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PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 May 8;10(5):e1003597. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003597. eCollection 2014 May.

Modelling negative feedback networks for activating transcription factor 3 predicts a dominant role for miRNAs in immediate early gene regulation.

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Department of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom; School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom.


Activating transcription factor 3 (Atf3) is rapidly and transiently upregulated in numerous systems, and is associated with various disease states. Atf3 is required for negative feedback regulation of other genes, but is itself subject to negative feedback regulation possibly by autorepression. In cardiomyocytes, Atf3 and Egr1 mRNAs are upregulated via ERK1/2 signalling and Atf3 suppresses Egr1 expression. We previously developed a mathematical model for the Atf3-Egr1 system. Here, we adjusted and extended the model to explore mechanisms of Atf3 feedback regulation. Introduction of an autorepressive loop for Atf3 tuned down its expression and inhibition of Egr1 was lost, demonstrating that negative feedback regulation of Atf3 by Atf3 itself is implausible in this context. Experimentally, signals downstream from ERK1/2 suppress Atf3 expression. Mathematical modelling indicated that this cannot occur by phosphorylation of pre-existing inhibitory transcriptional regulators because the time delay is too short. De novo synthesis of an inhibitory transcription factor (ITF) with a high affinity for the Atf3 promoter could suppress Atf3 expression, but (as with the Atf3 autorepression loop) inhibition of Egr1 was lost. Developing the model to include newly-synthesised miRNAs very efficiently terminated Atf3 protein expression and, with a 4-fold increase in the rate of degradation of mRNA from the mRNA/miRNA complex, profiles for Atf3 mRNA, Atf3 protein and Egr1 mRNA approximated to the experimental data. Combining the ITF model with that of the miRNA did not improve the profiles suggesting that miRNAs are likely to play a dominant role in switching off Atf3 expression post-induction.

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