Abstract : During the past 25 years, the characterization of sperm-triggered calcium signals in eggs has progressed from the discovery of a single calcium increase at fertilization in the medaka fish to the observation of repetitive calcium waves initiated by multiple meiotic calcium wave pacemakers in the ascidian. In eggs of all animal species, sperm-triggered inositol (1,4,5)-trisphosphate [Ins(1,4,5)P(3)] production regulates the vast array of calcium wave patterns observed in the different species. The spatial organization of calcium waves is driven either by the intracellular distribution of the calcium release machinery or by the localized and dynamic production of calcium-releasing second messengers. In the highly polarized egg cell, cortical endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-rich clusters act as pacemaker sites dedicated to the initiation of global calcium waves. The extensive ER network made of interconnected ER-rich domains supports calcium wave propagation throughout the egg. Fertilization triggers two types of calcium wave pacemakers depending on the species: in mice, the pacemaker site in the vegetal cortex of the egg is probably a site that has enhanced sensitivity to Ins(1,4,5)P(3); in ascidians, the calcium wave pacemaker may rely on a local source of Ins(1,4,5)P(3) production apposed to a cluster of ER in the vegetal cortex.
Abstract : Oscillations arise in genetic and metabolic networks as a result of various modes of cellular regulation. In view of the large number of variables involved and of the complexity of feedback processes that generate oscillations, mathematical models and numerical simulations are needed to fully grasp the molecular mechanisms and functions of biological rhythms. Models are also necessary to comprehend the transition from simple to complex oscillatory behaviour and to delineate the conditions under which they arise. Examples ranging from calcium oscillations to pulsatile intercellular communication and circadian rhythms illustrate how computational biology contributes to clarify the molecular and dynamical bases of cellular rhythms.
Abstract : The physiological effects of a drug depend not only on its molecular structure but also on the time-pattern of its administration. One of the main reasons for the importance of temporal patterns in drug action is biological rhythms, particularly those of circadian period. These rhythms affect most physiological functions as well as drug metabolism, clearance, and dynamic processes that may alter drug availability and target cell responsiveness with reference to biological time. We present an overview of the importance of time-patterned signals in physiology focused on the insights provided by a modeling approach. We first discuss examples of pulsatile intercellular communication by hormones such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and by cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) signals in Dictyostelium amoebae. Models based on reversible receptor desensitization account in both cases for the existence of optimal patterns of pulsatile signaling. Turning to circadian rhythms, we examine how models can be used to account for the response of 24h patterns to external stimuli such as light pulses or gene expression, and to predict how to restore the physiological characteristics of altered rhythms. Time-patterned treatments of cancer involve two distinct lines of research. The first, currently evaluated in clinical trials, relies on circadian chronomodulation of anticancer drugs, while the second, mostly based on theoretical studies, involves a resonance phenomenon with the cell-cycle length. We discuss the implications of modeling studies to improve the temporal patterning of drug administration.
Abstract : We use a core molecular model capable of generating circadian rhythms to assess the robustness of circadian oscillations with respect to molecular noise. The model is based on the negative feedback exerted by a regulatory protein on the expression of its gene. Such a negative regulatory mechanism underlies circadian oscillations of the PER protein in Drosophila and of the FRQ protein in Neurospora. The model incorporates gene transcription into mRNA, translation of mRNA into protein, reversible phosphorylation leading to degradation of the regulatory protein, transport of the latter into the nucleus, and repression of gene expression by the nuclear form of the protein. To assess the effect of molecular noise, we perform stochastic simulations after decomposing the deterministic model into elementary reaction steps. The oscillations predicted by the stochastic simulations agree with those obtained with the deterministic version of the model. We show that robust circadian oscillations can occur already with a limited number of mRNA and protein molecules, in the range of tens and hundreds, respectively. Entrainment by light/dark cycles and cooperativity in repression enhance the robustness of circadian oscillations with respect to molecular noise.
Abstract : Circadian rhythms which occur with a period close to 24 h in nearly all living organisms originate from the negative autoregulation of gene expression. Deterministic models based on genetic regulatory processes account for the occurrence of circadian rhythms in constant environmental conditions (e.g. constant darkness), for entrainment of these rhythms by light-dark cycles, and for their phase-shifting by light pulses. At low numbers of protein and mRNA molecules, it becomes necessary to resort to stochastic simulations to assess the influence of molecular noise on circadian oscillations. We address the effect of molecular noise by considering two stochastic versions of a core model for circadian rhythms. The deterministic version of this core model was previously proposed for circadian oscillations of the PER protein in Drosophila and of the FRQ protein in Neurospora. In the first, non-developed version of the stochastic model, we introduce molecular noise without decomposing the deterministic mechanism into detailed reaction steps while in the second, developed version we carry out such a detailed decomposition. Numerical simulations of the two stochastic versions of the model are performed by means of the Gillespie method. We compare the predictions of the deterministic approach with those of the two stochastic models, with respect both to sustained oscillations of the limit cycle type and to the influence of the proximity of a bifurcation point beyond which the system evolves to a stable steady state. The results indicate that robust circadian oscillations can occur even when the numbers of mRNA and nuclear protein involved in the oscillatory mechanism are reduced to a few tens or hundreds, respectively. The non-developed and developed versions of the stochastic model yield largely similar results and provide good agreement with the predictions of the deterministic model for circadian rhythms.
Abstract:We report a study of the influence of molecular fluctuations on a limit-cycle model of circadian rhythms based on the regulatory network of a gene involved in a biochemical clock. The molecular fluctuations may become important because of the low number of molecules involved in such genetic regulatory networks at the subcellular level. The molecular fluctuations are described by a birth-and-death stochastic process ruled by the chemical master equation of Nicolis and co-workers and simulated by Gillespie's algorithm. The robustness of the oscillations is characterized, in particular, by the probability distribution of the first-return times and the autocorrelation functions of the noisy oscillations. The half-life of the autocorrelation functions is studied as a function of the size of the system which controls the magnitude of the molecular fluctuations and of the degree of cooperativity of some reaction steps of the biochemical clock. The role of the attractivity of the limit cycle is also discussed.
Abstract : Fitness enhancement based on resonating circadian clocks has recently been demonstrated in cyanobacteria [Ouyang et al. (1998). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 95, 8660-8664]. Thus, the competition between two cyanobacterial strains differing by the free-running period (FRP) of their circadian oscillations leads to the dominance of one or the other of the two strains, depending on the period of the external light-dark (LD) cycle. The successful strain is generally that which has an FRP closest to the period of the LD cycle. Of key importance for the resonance phenomenon are observations which indicate that the phase angle between the circadian oscillator and the LD cycle depends both on the latter cycle's length and on the FRP. We account for these experimental observations by means of a theoretical model which takes into account (i) cell growth, (ii) secretion of a putative cell growth inhibitor, and (iii) the existence of a cellular, light-sensitive circadian oscillator controlling growth as well as inhibitor secretion. Building on a previous analysis in which the phase angle was considered as a freely adjustable parameter [Roussel et al. (2000). J. theor. Biol. 205, 321-340], we incorporate into the model a light-sensitive version of the van der Pol oscillator to represent explicitly the cellular circadian oscillator. In this way, the model automatically generates a phase angle between the circadian oscillator and the LD cycle which depends on the characteristic FRP of the strain and varies continuously with the period of the LD cycle. The model provides an explanation for the results of competition experiments between strains of different FRPs subjected to entrainment by LD cycles of different periods. The model further shows how the dominance of one strain over another in LD cycles can be reconciled with the observation that two strains characterized by different FRPs nevertheless display the same growth kinetics in continuous light or in LD cycles when present alone in the medium. Theoretical predictions are made as to how the outcome of competition depends on the initial proportions and on the FRPs of the different strains. We also determine the effect of the photoperiod and extend the analysis to the case of a competition between three cyanobacterial strains.
Abstract : Human scalp hair consists of a set of about 10(5)follicles which progress independently through developmental cycles. Each hair follicle successively goes through the anagen (A), catagen (C), telogen (T) and latency (L) phases that correspond, respectively, to growth, arrest and hair shedding before a new anagen phase is initiated. Long-term experimental observations in a group of ten male, alopecic and non-alopecic volunteers allowed determination of the characteristics of hair follicle cycles. On the basis of these observations, we previously proposed a follicular automaton model to simulate the dynamics of human hair cycles and the development of different patterns of alopecia [Halloy et al. (2000) Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97, 8328-8333]. The automaton model is defined by a set of rules that govern the stochastic transitions of each follicle between the successive states A, T, L and the subsequent return to A. These transitions occur independently for each follicle, after time intervals given stochastically by a distribution characterized by a mean and a standard deviation. The follicular automaton model was shown to account both for the dynamical transitions observed in a single follicle, and for the behaviour of an ensemble of independently cycling follicles. Here, we extend these results and investigate additional properties of the model. We present a deterministic version of the follicular automaton. We show that numerical simulations of the stochastic version of the automaton yield steady-state level of follicles in the different phases which approach the levels predicted by the deterministic equations as the number of follicles progressively increases. Only the stochastic version can successfully reproduce the fluctuations of the fractions of follicles in each of the three phases, observed in small follicle populations. When the standard deviation is reduced or when the follicles become otherwise synchronized, e.g. by a periodic external signal inducing the transition of anagen follicles into telogen phase, large-amplitude oscillations occur in the fractions of follicles in the three phases. These oscillations are not observed in humans but are reminiscent of the phenomenon of moulting observed in a number of mammalian species.