Intracellular protein levels of diverse transcription factors (TFs) vary periodically with time. However, the effects of TF oscillations on gene expression, the primary role of TFs, are poorly understood. In this study, we determined these effects by comparing gene expression levels induced in the presence and in the absence of TF oscillations under same mean intracellular protein level of TF. For all the nonlinear TF transcription kinetics studied, an oscillatory TF is predicted to induce gene expression levels that are distinct from a nonoscillatory TF. The conditions dictating whether TF oscillations induce either higher or lower average gene expression levels were elucidated. Subsequently, the predicted effects from an oscillatory TF, which follows sigmoid transcription kinetics, were applied to demonstrate how oscillatory dynamics provide a mechanism for differential target gene transactivation. Generally, the mean TF concentration at which oscillations occur relative to the promoter binding affinity of a target gene determines whether the gene is up- or downregulated whereas the oscillation amplitude amplifies the magnitude of the differential regulation. Notably, the predicted trends of differential gene expressions induced by oscillatory NF-κB and glucocorticoid receptor match the reported experimental observations. Furthermore, the biological function of p53 oscillations is predicted to prime the cell for death upon DNA damage via differential upregulation of apoptotic genes. Lastly, given N target genes, an oscillatory TF can generate between (N - 1) and (2N - 1) distinct patterns of differential transactivation. This study provides insights into the mechanism for TF oscillations to induce differential gene expressions, and underscores the importance of TF oscillations in biological regulations. © 2012 Biophysical Society.
Wee, K. B., Yio, W. K., Surana, U., & Chiam, K. H. (2012). Transcription factor oscillations induce differential gene expressions. Biophysical Journal, 102(11), 2413–2423. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2012.04.023