The combination of positive and negative feedback loops confers exquisite flexibility to biochemical switches

Phys Biol. 2009 Nov 12;6(4):046013. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/6/4/046013.

Abstract

A wide range of cellular processes require molecular regulatory pathways to convert a graded signal into a discrete response. One prevalent switching mechanism relies on the coexistence of two stable states (bistability) caused by positive feedback regulations. Intriguingly, positive feedback is often supplemented with negative feedback, raising the question of whether and how these two types of feedback can cooperate to control discrete cellular responses. To address this issue, we formulate a canonical model of a protein-protein interaction network and analyze the dynamics of a prototypical two-component circuit. The appropriate combination of negative and positive feedback loops can bring a bistable circuit close to the oscillatory regime. Notably, sharply activated negative feedback can give rise to a bistable regime wherein two stable fixed points coexist and may collide pairwise with two saddle points. This specific type of bistability is found to allow for separate and flexible control of switch-on and switch-off events, for example (i) to combine fast and reversible transitions, (ii) to enable transient switching responses and (iii) to display tunable noise-induced transition rates. Finally, we discuss the relevance of such bistable switching behavior, and the circuit topologies considered, to specific biological processes such as adaptive metabolic responses, stochastic fate decisions and cell-cycle transitions. Taken together, our results suggest an efficient mechanism by which positive and negative feedback loops cooperate to drive the flexible and multifaceted switching behaviors arising in biological systems.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle
  • Feedback, Physiological*
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Interaction Mapping
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*

Substances

  • Proteins