Karl Fogelmark, Carsten Peterson and Carl Troein
Selection shapes transcriptional logic and regulatory specialization in genetic networks
PLoS ONE 11, e0150340 (2016)


Background: Living organisms need to regulate their gene expression in response to environmental signals and internal cues. This is a computational task where genes act as logic gates that connect to form transcriptional networks, which are shaped at all scales by evolution. Large-scale mutations such as gene duplications and deletions add and remove network components, whereas smaller mutations alter the connections between them. Selection determines what mutations are accepted, but its importance for shaping the resulting networks has been debated.

Methodology: To investigate the effects of selection in the shaping of transcriptional networks, we derive transcriptional logic from a combinatorially powerful yet tractable model of the binding between DNA and transcription factors. By evolving the resulting networks based on their ability to function as either a simple decision system or a circadian clock, we obtain information on the regulation and logic rules encoded in functional transcriptional networks. Comparisons are made between networks evolved for different functions, as well as with structurally equivalent but non-functional (neutrally evolved) networks, and predictions are validated against the transcriptional network of E. coli.

Principal Findings: We find that the logic rules governing gene expression depend on the function performed by the network. Unlike the decision systems, the circadian clocks show strong cooperative binding and negative regulation, which achieves tight temporal control of gene expression. Furthermore, we find that transcription factors act preferentially as either activators or repressors, both when binding multiple sites for a single target gene and globally in the transcriptional networks. This separation into positive and negative regulators requires gene duplications, which highlights the interplay between mutation and selection in shaping the transcriptional networks.

LU TP 16-08