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13 March 2023

Design of Oscillatory Networks through Post-translational Control of Network Components

Many essential functions in biological systems, including cell cycle progression and circadian rhythm regulation, are governed by the periodic behaviors of specific molecules. These periodic behaviors arise from the precise arrangement of components in biomolecular networks that generate oscillatory output signals. The dynamic properties of individual components of these networks, such as maturation delays and degradation rates, often play a key role in determining the network's oscillatory behavior. In this study, we explored the post-translational modulation of network components as a means to generate genetic circuits with oscillatory behaviors and perturb the oscillation features. Specifically, we used the NanoDeg platform—A bifunctional molecule consisting of a target-specific nanobody and a degron tag—to control the degradation rates of the circuit’s components and predicted the effect of NanoDeg-mediated post-translational depletion of a key circuit component on the behavior of a series of proto-oscillating network topologies. We modeled the behavior of two main classes of oscillators, namely relaxation oscillator topologies (the activator-repressor and the Goodwin oscillator) and ring oscillator topologies (repressilators). We identified two main mechanisms by which non-oscillating networks could be induced to oscillate through post-translational modulation of network components: an increase in the separation of timescales of network components and mitigation of the leaky expression of network components. These results are in agreement with previous findings describing the effect of timescale separation and mitigation of leaky expression on oscillatory behaviors. This work thus validates the use of tools to control protein degradation rates as a strategy to modulate existing oscillatory signals and construct oscillatory networks. In addition, this study provides the design rules to implement such an approach based on the control of protein degradation rates using the NanoDeg platform, which does not require genetic manipulation of the network components and can be adapted to virtually any cellular protein. This work also establishes a framework to explore the use of tools for post-translational perturbations of biomolecular networks and generates desired behaviors of the network output.

Keywords: Genetic oscillators; Protein degradation; Post-translational regulation; Nanobody; Synthetic genetic networks