Based on the measurements of noise in gene expression performed during the past decade, it has become customary to think of gene regulation in terms of a two-state model, where the promoter of a gene can stochastically switch between an ON and an OFF state. As experiments are becoming increasingly precise and the deviations from the two-state model start to be observable, we ask about the experimental signatures of complex multistate promoters, as well as the functional consequences of this additional complexity. In detail, we i), extend the calculations for noise in gene expression to promoters described by state transition diagrams with multiple states, ii), systematically compute the experimentally accessible noise characteristics for these complex promoters, and iii), use information theory to evaluate the channel capacities of complex promoter architectures and compare them with the baseline provided by the two-state model. We find that adding internal states to the promoter generically decreases channel capacity, except in certain cases, three of which (cooperativity, dual-role regulation, promoter cycling) we analyze in detail.
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