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Modeling Robustness Tradeoffs in Yeast Cell Polarization Induced by Spatial Gradients

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Cells localize (polarize) internal components to specific locations in response to external signals such as spatial gradients. For example, yeast cells form a mating projection toward the source of mating pheromone. There are specific challenges associated with cell polarization including amplification of shallow external gradients of ligand to produce steep internal gradients of protein components (e.g. localized distribution), response over a broad range of ligand concentrations, and tracking of moving signal sources. In this work, we investigated the tradeoffs among these performance objectives using a generic model that captures the basic spatial dynamics of polarization in yeast cells, which are small. We varied the positive feedback, cooperativity, and diffusion coefficients in the model to explore the nature of this tradeoff. Increasing the positive feedback gain resulted in better amplification, but also produced multiple steady-states and hysteresis that prevented the tracking of directional changes of the gradient. Feedforward/feedback coincidence detection in the positive feedback loop and multi-stage amplification both improved tracking with only a modest loss of amplification. Surprisingly, we found that introducing lateral surface diffusion increased the robustness of polarization and collapsed the multiple steady-states to a single steady-state at the cost of a reduction in polarization. Finally, in a more mechanistic model of yeast cell polarization, a surface diffusion coefficient between 0.01 and 0.001 µm2/s produced the best polarization performance, and this range is close to the measured value. The model also showed good gradient-sensitivity and dynamic range. This research is significant because it provides an in-depth analysis of the performance tradeoffs that confront biological systems that sense and respond to chemical spatial gradients, proposes strategies for balancing this tradeoff, highlights the critical role of lateral diffusion of proteins in the membrane on the robustness of polarization, and furnishes a framework for future spatial models of yeast cell polarization.

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