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Quantitative characteristics of gene regulation by small RNA.

  • Author(s): Levine, Erel
  • Zhang, Zhongge
  • Kuhlman, Thomas
  • Hwa, Terence
  • et al.
Abstract

An increasing number of small RNAs (sRNAs) have been shown to regulate critical pathways in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In bacteria, regulation by trans-encoded sRNAs is predominantly found in the coordination of intricate stress responses. The mechanisms by which sRNAs modulate expression of its targets are diverse. In common to most is the possibility that interference with the translation of mRNA targets may also alter the abundance of functional sRNAs. Aiming to understand the unique role played by sRNAs in gene regulation, we studied examples from two distinct classes of bacterial sRNAs in Escherichia coli using a quantitative approach combining experiment and theory. Our results demonstrate that sRNA provides a novel mode of gene regulation, with characteristics distinct from those of protein-mediated gene regulation. These include a threshold-linear response with a tunable threshold, a robust noise resistance characteristic, and a built-in capability for hierarchical cross-talk. Knowledge of these special features of sRNA-mediated regulation may be crucial toward understanding the subtle functions that sRNAs can play in coordinating various stress-relief pathways. Our results may also help guide the design of synthetic genetic circuits that have properties difficult to attain with protein regulators alone.

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