Erica Manesso, Hao Yuan Kueh, George Freedman,
Ellen V. Rothenberg and Carsten Peterson
Irreversibility of T-cell specification: insights from computational modelling of a minimal network architecture
PLoS ONE 11, e0161260 (2016)


Background and objectives: A cascade of gene activations under the control of Notch signalling is required during T-cell specification, when T-cell precursors gradually lose the potential to undertake other fates and become fully committed to the T-cell lineage. We elucidate how the gene/protein dynamics for a core transcriptional module governs this important process by computational means.

Methods: We first assembled existing knowledge about transcription factors known to be important for T-cell specification to form a minimal core module consisting of TCF-1, GATA-3, BCL11B, and PU.1 aiming at dynamical modeling. Model architecture was based on published experimental measurements of the effects on each factor when each of the others is perturbed. While several studies provided gene expression measurements at different stages of T-cell development, pure time series are not available, thus precluding a straightforward study of the dynamical interactions among these genes. We therefore translate stage dependent data into time series. A feed-forward motif with multiple positive feed-backs can account for the observed delay between BCL11B versus TCF-1 and GATA-3 activation by Notch signalling. With a novel computational approach, all 32 possible interactions among Notch signalling, TCF-1, and GATA-3 are explored by translating combinatorial logic expressions into differential equations for BCL11B production rate.

Results: Our analysis reveals that only 3 of 32 possible configurations, where GATA-3 works as a dimer, are able to explain not only the time delay, but very importantly, also give rise to irreversibility. The winning models explain the data within the 95% confidence region and are consistent with regard to decay rates.

Conclusions: This first generation model for early T-cell specification has relatively few players. Yet it explains the gradual transition into a committed state with no return. Encoding logics in a rate equation setting allows determination of binding properties beyond what is possible in a Boolean network.

LU TP 16-48