Coordination logic of the sensing machinery in the transcriptional regulatory network of Escherichia coli

Nucleic Acids Res. 2007;35(20):6963-72. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkm743. Epub 2007 Oct 12.


The active and inactive state of transcription factors in growing cells is usually directed by allosteric physicochemical signals or metabolites, which are in turn either produced in the cell or obtained from the environment by the activity of the products of effector genes. To understand the regulatory dynamics and to improve our knowledge about how transcription factors (TFs) respond to endogenous and exogenous signals in the bacterial model, Escherichia coli, we previously proposed to classify TFs into external, internal and hybrid sensing classes depending on the source of their allosteric or equivalent metabolite. Here we analyze how a cell uses its topological structures in the context of sensing machinery and show that, while feed forward loops (FFLs) tightly integrate internal and external sensing TFs connecting TFs from different layers of the hierarchical transcriptional regulatory network (TRN), bifan motifs frequently connect TFs belonging to the same sensing class and could act as a bridge between TFs originating from the same level in the hierarchy. We observe that modules identified in the regulatory network of E. coli are heterogeneous in sensing context with a clear combination of internal and external sensing categories depending on the physiological role played by the module. We also note that propensity of two-component response regulators increases at promoters, as the number of TFs regulating a target operon increases. Finally we show that evolutionary families of TFs do not show a tendency to preserve their sensing abilities. Our results provide a detailed panorama of the topological structures of E. coli TRN and the way TFs they compose off, sense their surroundings by coordinating responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Operon
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Transcription Factors