Apoptosis in response to the ligand CD95L (also known as Fas ligand) is initiated by caspase-8, which is activated by dimerization and self-cleavage at death-inducing signaling complexes (DISCs). Previous work indicated that the degree of substrate cleavage by caspase-8 determines whether a cell dies or survives in response to a death stimulus. To determine how a death ligand stimulus is effectively translated into caspase-8 activity, we assessed this activity over time in single cells with compartmentalized probes that are cleaved by caspase-8 and used multiscale modeling to simultaneously describe single-cell and population data with an ensemble of single-cell models. We derived and experimentally validated a minimal model in which cleavage of caspase-8 in the enzymatic domain occurs in an interdimeric manner through interaction between DISCs, whereas prodomain cleavage sites are cleaved in an intradimeric manner within DISCs. Modeling indicated that sustained membrane-bound caspase-8 activity is followed by transient cytosolic activity, which can be interpreted as a molecular timer mechanism reflected by a limited lifetime of active caspase-8. The activation of caspase-8 by combined intra- and interdimeric cleavage ensures weak signaling at low concentrations of CD95L and strongly accelerated activation at higher ligand concentrations, thereby contributing to precise control of apoptosis.
Systemic iron homeostasis involves a negative feedback circuit in which the expression level of the peptide hormone hepcidin depends on and controls the iron blood levels. Hepcidin expression is regulated by the BMP6/SMAD and IL6/STAT signaling cascades. Deregulation of either pathway causes iron-related diseases such as hemochromatosis or anemia of inflammation. We quantitatively analyzed how BMP6 and IL6 control hepcidin expression. Transcription factor (TF) phosphorylation and reporter gene expression were measured under co-stimulation conditions, and the promoter was perturbed by mutagenesis. Using mathematical modeling, we systematically analyzed potential mechanisms of cooperative and competitive promoter regulation by the transcription factors, and experimentally validated the model predictions. Our results reveal that hepcidin cross-regulation primarily occurs by combinatorial transcription factor binding to the promoter, whereas signaling crosstalk is insignificant. We find that the presence of two BMP-responsive elements enhances the steepness of the promoter response towards the iron-sensing BMP signaling axis, which promotes iron homeostasis in vivo. IL6 co-stimulation reduces the promoter sensitivity towards the BMP signal, because the SMAD and STAT transcription factors compete for recruiting RNA polymerase to the transcription start site. This may explain why inflammatory signals disturb iron homeostasis in anemia of inflammation. Taken together, our results reveal why the iron homeostasis circuit is sensitive to perturbations implicated in disease.
Cells reliably sense environmental changes despite internal and external fluctuations, but the mechanisms underlying robustness remain unclear. We analyzed how fluctuations in signaling protein concentrations give rise to cell-to-cell variability in protein kinase signaling using analytical theory and numerical simulations. We characterized the dose-response behavior of signaling cascades by calculating the stimulus level at which a pathway responds (pathway sensitivity) and the maximal activation level upon strong stimulation. Minimal kinase cascades with gradual dose-response behavior show strong variability, because the pathway sensitivity and the maximal activation level cannot be simultaneously invariant. Negative feedback regulation resolves this trade-off and coordinately reduces fluctuations in the pathway sensitivity and maximal activation. Feedbacks acting at different levels in the cascade control different aspects of the dose-response curve, thereby synergistically reducing the variability. We also investigated more complex, ultrasensitive signaling cascades capable of switch-like decision making, and found that these can be inherently robust to protein concentration fluctuations. We describe how the cell-to-cell variability of ultrasensitive signaling systems can be actively regulated, e.g., by altering the expression of phosphatase(s) or by feedback/feedforward loops. Our calculations reveal that slow transcriptional negative feedback loops allow for variability suppression while maintaining switch-like decision making. Taken together, we describe design principles of signaling cascades that promote robustness. Our results may explain why certain signaling cascades like the yeast pheromone pathway show switch-like decision making with little cell-to-cell variability.
What makes embryogenesis a robust and canalized process is an important question in developmental biology. A bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) morphogen gradient plays a key role in embryonic development, and we are beginning to understand how the self-regulating properties of its signaling circuitry ensure robust embryonic patterning. An unexplored question is why the BMP signaling circuit is organized as a modular synexpression group, with a prevalence of feedback inhibitors. Here, we provide evidence from direct experimentation and mathematical modeling that the synexpressed feedback inhibitors BAMBI, SMAD6, and SMAD7 (i) expand the dynamic BMP signaling range essential for proper embryonic patterning and (ii) reduce interindividual phenotypic and molecular variability in Xenopus embryos. Thereby, negative feedback linearizes signaling responses and confers robust patterning, thus promoting canalized development. The presence of negative feedback inhibitors in other growth factor synexpression groups suggests that these properties may constitute a general principle.
Intracellular signaling governed by serine/threonine kinases comprises the molecular interface between cell surface receptors and the nuclear transcriptional machinery. The protein kinase C (PKC) family members are involved in the control of many signaling processes directing cell proliferation, motility, and survival. Here, we examined a role of different PKC isoenzymes in protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and HRSL3 tumor suppressor-dependent cell death induction in the ovarian carcinoma cell line OVCAR-3. Phosphorylation and activity of PKC isoenzymes were measured in response to PP2A or phosphoinositide 3-kinase inhibition or HRSL3 overexpression. These experiments indicated a regulation of PKC, epsilon, zeta, and iota through PP2A and/or HRSL3, but not of PKCalpha and beta. Using isoform-specific peptide inhibitors and overexpression approaches, we verified a contribution to PP2A- and HRLS3-dependent apoptosis only for PKCzeta, suggesting a proapoptotic function of this kinase. We observed a significant proportion of human ovarian carcinomas expressing high levels of PKCzeta, which correlated with poor prognosis. Primary ovarian carcinoma cells isolated from patients also responded to okadaic acid treatment with increased phosphorylation of PKCzeta and apoptosis induction. Thus, our data indicate a contribution of PKCzeta in survival control in ovarian carcinoma cells and suggest that upregulation or activation of tyrosine kinase receptors in this tumor might impinge onto apoptosis control through the negative regulation of the atypical PKCzeta.
Minor (5-10 fold) activation of mitogenic signalling cascades typically induces cell division upon extracellular stimulation and is sufficient to support tumourigenesis when permanently triggered by activating mutations. Surprisingly, even strong signalling protein overexpression usually does not trigger deregulated cell proliferation, suggesting that basal state signalling is insensitive to wildtype protein overexpression. Using kinetic modelling of the core Ras cycle, we show that basal RasGTP signalling can be insensitive to Ras overexpression and thus identify a possible tumour suppression mechanism. We further show how phenotypically silent overexpression events within signalling cascades cooperate to bring about carcinogenesis. Our analyses underscore the need for a systems level understanding of tumour formation.
Crosstalk mechanisms have not been studied as thoroughly as individual signaling pathways. We exploit experimental and computational approaches to reveal how a concordant interplay between the insulin and epidermal growth factor (EGF) signaling networks can potentiate mitogenic signaling. In HEK293 cells, insulin is a poor activator of the Ras/ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) cascade, yet it enhances ERK activation by low EGF doses. We find that major crosstalk mechanisms that amplify ERK signaling are localized upstream of Ras and at the Ras/Raf level. Computational modeling unveils how critical network nodes, the adaptor proteins GAB1 and insulin receptor substrate (IRS), Src kinase, and phosphatase SHP2, convert insulin-induced increase in the phosphatidylinositol-3,4,5-triphosphate (PIP(3)) concentration into enhanced Ras/ERK activity. The model predicts and experiments confirm that insulin-induced amplification of mitogenic signaling is abolished by disrupting PIP(3)-mediated positive feedback via GAB1 and IRS. We demonstrate that GAB1 behaves as a non-linear amplifier of mitogenic responses and insulin endows EGF signaling with robustness to GAB1 suppression. Our results show the feasibility of using computational models to identify key target combinations and predict complex cellular responses to a mixture of external cues.
Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling determines crucial cell fate decisions in most cell types, and mediates cellular transformation in many types of cancer. The activity of MAPK is controlled by reversible phosphorylation, and the quantitative characteristics of MAPK activation determine the cellular response. Many systems biological studies have analyzed the activation kinetics and the dose-response behavior of the MAPK signaling pathway. Here we investigate how the pathway activity is controlled by transcriptional feedback loops. Initially, we predict that MAPK signaling regulates phosphatases, by integrating promoter sequence data and ontology-based classification of gene function. From this, we deduce that MAPK signaling might be controlled by transcriptional negative feedback regulation via dual-specificity phosphatases (DUSPs), and implement a mathematical model to further test this hypothesis. Using time-resolved measurements of pathway activity and gene expression, we employ a model selection approach, and select DUSP6 as a highly likely candidate for shaping the activity of the MAPK pathway during cellular transformation caused by oncogenic RAS. Two predictions from the model were confirmed: first, feedback regulation requires that DUSP6 mRNA and protein are unstable; and second, the activation kinetics of MAPK are ultrasensitive. Taken together, an integrated systems biological approach reveals that transcriptional negative feedback controls the kinetics and the extent of MAPK activation under both physiological and pathological conditions.
Signal transduction pathways transduce information about the outside of the cell to the nucleus, regulating gene expression and cell fate. To reliably inform the cell about its surroundings, information transfer has to be robust against typical perturbation that a cell experiences. Robustness of several mammalian signaling pathways has been studied recently by quantitative experimentation and using mathematical modeling. Here, we review these studies, and describe the emerging concepts of robustness and the underlying mechanisms.
Cells respond to external cues by precisely coordinating multiple molecular events. Co-regulation may be established by the so-called single-input module (SIM), where a common regulator controls multiple targets. Using mathematical modeling, we compared the ability of SIM architectures to precisely coordinate protein levels despite environmental fluctuations and uncertainties in parameter values. We find that post-transcriptional co-regulation as exemplified by bacterial small RNAs (sRNAs) is particularly robust: sRNA-mediated regulation establishes highly synchronous gene expression thresholds for all mRNA targets without a need for fine-tuning of kinetic parameters. Our analyses reveal that the non-catalytic nature of sRNA action is essential for robust gene expression synchronization, and that sRNA sequestration effects underlie coupling of multiple mRNA pools. This principle also operates in the temporal regime, implying that sRNAs could robustly coordinate the kinetics of mRNA induction as well. Moreover, we observe that multi-target regulation by a small RNA can strongly enhance ultrasensitivity in mRNA expression when compared to the single-target case. Our findings may explain why bacterial small RNAs frequently coordinate all-or-none responses to cellular stress.
RAS mutations are highly relevant for progression and therapy response of human tumours, but the genetic network that ultimately executes the oncogenic effects is poorly understood. Here, we used a reverse-engineering approach in an ovarian cancer model to reconstruct KRAS oncogene-dependent cytoplasmic and transcriptional networks from perturbation experiments based on gene silencing and pathway inhibitor treatments. We measured mRNA and protein levels in manipulated cells by microarray, RT-PCR and western blot analysis, respectively. The reconstructed model revealed complex interactions among the transcriptional and cytoplasmic components, some of which were confirmed by double pertubation experiments. Interestingly, the transcription factors decomposed into two hierarchically arranged groups. To validate the model predictions, we analysed growth parameters and transcriptional deregulation in the KRAS-transformed epithelial cells. As predicted by the model, we found two functional groups among the selected transcription factors. The experiments thus confirmed the predicted hierarchical transcription factor regulation and showed that the hierarchy manifests itself in downstream gene expression patterns and phenotype.
Endosomes constitute a central layer in the regulation of growth factor signaling. We applied flow cytometry, confocal microscopy and automated image quantification to define the role of Caveolin1 (Cav1) in epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (i) internalization and (ii) endosomal trafficking. Antisense-downregulation of Cav1 did not affect internalization of EGF:EGFR-complexes from the plasma membrane. Instead, Cav1-knockdown had a profound effect on endosomal trafficking and caused a shift in EGF vesicle distribution towards Rab7-negative compartments at late timepoints. Moreover, image quantification with single-endosome resolution revealed that EGF:Cav1-complexes undergo a maturation pattern reminiscent of late endosomes. Our data suggest a model in which Caveolin1 acts upon EGF endosomes internalized via the Clathrin-pathway and functions at the transition from early to late endosomes.
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