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Enzyme activities predicted by metabolite concentrations and solvent capacity in the cell


Experimental measurements or computational model predictions of the post-translational regulation of enzymes needed in a metabolic pathway is a difficult problem. Consequently, regulation is mostly known only for well-studied reactions of central metabolism in various model organisms. In this study, we use two approaches to predict enzyme regulation policies and investigate the hypothesis that regulation is driven by the need to maintain the solvent capacity in the cell. The first predictive method uses a statistical thermodynamics and metabolic control theory framework while the second method is performed using a hybrid optimization-reinforcement learning approach. Efficient regulation schemes were learned from experimental data that either agree with theoretical calculations or result in a higher cell fitness using maximum useful work as a metric. As previously hypothesized, regulation is herein shown to control the concentrations of both immediate and downstream product concentrations at physiological levels. Model predictions provide the following two novel general principles: (1) the regulation itself causes the reactions to be much further from equilibrium instead of the common assumption that highly non-equilibrium reactions are the targets for regulation; and (2) the minimal regulation needed to maintain metabolite levels at physiological concentrations maximizes the free energy dissipation rate instead of preserving a specific energy charge. The resulting energy dissipation rate is an emergent property of regulation which may be represented by a high value of the adenylate energy charge. In addition, the predictions demonstrate that the amount of regulation needed can be minimized if it is applied at the beginning or branch point of a pathway, in agreement with common notions. The approach is demonstrated for three pathways in the central metabolism of E. coli (gluconeogenesis, glycolysis-tricarboxylic acid (TCA) and pentose phosphate-TCA) that each require different regulation schemes. It is shown quantitatively that hexokinase, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase and glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase, all branch points of pathways, play the largest roles in regulating central metabolism.

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