Background: Diverse mitotic events can be triggered in the correct order and time by a single cyclin-CDK. A single regulator could confer order and timing on multiple events if later events require higher cyclin-CDK than earlier events, so that gradually rising cyclin-CDK levels can sequentially trigger responsive events: the "quantitative model" of ordering.
Methodology/principal findings: This 'quantitative model' makes predictions for the effect of locking cyclin at fixed levels for a protracted period: at low cyclin levels, early events should occur rapidly, while late events should be slow, defective, or highly variable (depending on threshold mechanism). We titrated the budding yeast mitotic cyclin Clb2 within its endogenous expression range to a stable, fixed level and measured time to occurrence of three mitotic events: growth depolarization, spindle formation, and spindle elongation, as a function of fixed Clb2 level. These events require increasingly more Clb2 according to their normal order of occurrence. Events occur efficiently and with low variability at fixed Clb2 levels similar to those observed when the events normally occur. A second prediction of the model is that increasing the rate of cyclin accumulation should globally advance timing of all events. Moderate (<2-fold) overexpression of Clb2 accelerates all events of mitosis, resulting in consistently rapid sequential cell cycles. However, this moderate overexpression also causes a significant frequency of premature mitoses leading to inviability, suggesting that Clb2 expression level is optimized to balance the fitness costs of variability and catastrophe.
Conclusions/significance: We conclude that mitotic events are regulated by discrete cyclin-CDK thresholds. These thresholds are sequentially triggered as cyclin increases, yielding reliable order and timing. In many biological processes a graded input must be translated into discrete outputs. In such systems, expression of the central regulator is likely to be tuned to an optimum level, as we observe here for Clb2.