The lactose operon of Escherichia coli is a paradigm system for quantitative understanding of gene regulation in prokaryotes. Yet, none of the many mathematical models built so far to study the dynamics of this system considered the fact that the Lac repressor regulates its own transcription by forming a transcriptional roadblock at the O3 operator site. Here we study the effect of autoregulation on intracellular LacI levels and also show that cAMP-CRP binding does not affect the efficiency of autoregulation. We built a mathematical model to study the role of LacI autoregulation in the lactose utilization system. Previously, it has been argued that negative autoregulation can significantly reduce noise as well as increase the speed of response. We show that the particular molecular mechanism, a transcriptional roadblock, used to achieve self-repression in the lac system does neither. Instead, LacI autoregulation balances two opposing states, one that allows quicker response to smaller pulses of external lactose, and the other that minimizes production costs in the absence of lactose.
Optimal response to environmental stimuli often requires activation of certain genes and repression of others. Dual function regulatory proteins play a key role in the differential regulation of gene expression. While repression can be achieved by any DNA binding protein through steric occlusion of RNA polymerase in the promoter region, activation often requires a surface on the regulatory protein to contact RNAP and thus facilitate transcription initiation. RNAP itself is also a DNA binding protein, therefore it can function as a transcriptional repressor. Searching the Escherichia coli promoter database we found that ?14% of the identified forward promoters overlap with a promoter oriented in the opposite direction. In this article we combine a mathematical model with experimental analysis of synthetic regulatory regions to investigate interference of overlapping promoters. We find that promoter interference depends on the characteristics of overlapping promoters. The model predicts that promoter strength and interference can be regulated separately, which provides unique opportunities for regulation. Our experimental data suggest that in principle any DNA binding protein can be used for both activation and repression of promoter transcription, depending on the context. These findings can be exploited in the construction of synthetic networks.
In the natural environment, bacterial cells have to adjust their metabolism to alterations in the availability of food sources. The order and timing of gene expression are crucial in these situations to produce an appropriate response. We used the galactose regulation in Escherichia coli as a model system for understanding how cells integrate information about food availability and cAMP levels to adjust the timing and intensity of gene expression. We simulated the feast-famine cycle of bacterial growth by diluting stationary phase cells in fresh medium containing galactose as the sole carbon source. We followed the activities of six promoters of the galactose system as cells grew on and ran out of galactose. We found that the cell responds to a decreasing external galactose level by increasing the internal galactose level, which is achieved by limiting galactose metabolism and increasing the expression of transporters. We show that the cell alters gene expression based primarily on the current state of the cell and not on monitoring the level of extracellular galactose in real time. Some decisions have longer term effects; therefore, the current state does subtly encode the history of food availability. In summary, our measurements of timing of gene expression in the galactose system suggest that the system has evolved to respond to environments where future galactose levels are unpredictable rather than regular feast and famine cycles.
Many transcription factors repress transcription of their own genes. Negative autoregulation has been shown to reduce cell-cell variation in regulatory protein levels and speed up the response time in gene networks. In this work we examined transcription regulation of the galS gene and the function of its product, the GalS protein. We observed a unique operator preference of the GalS protein characterized by dominant negative autoregulation. We show that this pattern of regulation limits the repression level of the target genes in steady states. We suggest that transcription factors with dominant negative autoregulation are designed for regulating gene expression during environmental transitions.
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