Boolean models can explain bistability in the lac operon

J Comput Biol. 2011 Jun;18(6):783-94. doi: 10.1089/cmb.2011.0031. Epub 2011 May 12.


The lac operon in Escherichia coli has been studied extensively and is one of the earliest gene systems found to undergo both positive and negative control. The lac operon is known to exhibit bistability, in the sense that the operon is either induced or uninduced. Many dynamical models have been proposed to capture this phenomenon. While most are based on complex mathematical formulations, it has been suggested that for other gene systems network topology is sufficient to produce the desired dynamical behavior. We present a Boolean network as a discrete model for the lac operon. Our model includes the two main glucose control mechanisms of catabolite repression and inducer exclusion. We show that this Boolean model is capable of predicting the ON and OFF steady states and bistability. Further, we present a reduced model which shows that lac mRNA and lactose form the core of the lac operon, and that this reduced model exhibits the same dynamics. This work suggests that the key to model qualitative dynamics of gene systems is the topology of the network and Boolean models are well suited for this purpose.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Glucose / genetics
  • Lac Operon*
  • Lactose / genetics
  • Models, Genetic*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Glucose
  • Lactose