Modular Composition of Gene Transcription Networks

Andras Gyorgy, Domitilla Del Vecchio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predicting the dynamic behavior of a large network from that of the composing modules is a central problem in systems and synthetic biology. Yet, this predictive ability is still largely missing because modules display context-dependent behavior. One cause of context-dependence is retroactivity, a phenomenon similar to loading that influences in non-trivial ways the dynamic performance of a module upon connection to other modules. Here, we establish an analysis framework for gene transcription networks that explicitly accounts for retroactivity. Specifically, a module's key properties are encoded by three retroactivity matrices: internal, scaling, and mixing retroactivity. All of them have a physical interpretation and can be computed from macroscopic parameters (dissociation constants and promoter concentrations) and from the modules' topology. The internal retroactivity quantifies the effect of intramodular connections on an isolated module's dynamics. The scaling and mixing retroactivity establish how intermodular connections change the dynamics of connected modules. Based on these matrices and on the dynamics of modules in isolation, we can accurately predict how loading will affect the behavior of an arbitrary interconnection of modules. We illustrate implications of internal, scaling, and mixing retroactivity on the performance of recurrent network motifs, including negative autoregulation, combinatorial regulation, two-gene clocks, the toggle switch, and the single-input motif. We further provide a quantitative metric that determines how robust the dynamic behavior of a module is to interconnection with other modules. This metric can be employed both to evaluate the extent of modularity of natural networks and to establish concrete design guidelines to minimize retroactivity between modules in synthetic systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1003486
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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