Network motifs: Structure does not determine function

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Background: A number of publications have recently examined the occurrence and properties of the feed-forward motif in a variety of networks, including those that are of interest in genome biology, such as gene networks. The present work looks in some detail at the dynamics of the bifan motif, using systems of ordinary differential equations to model the populations of transcription factors, mRNA and protein, with the aim of extending our understanding of what appear to be important building blocks of gene network structure. Results: We develop an ordinary differential equation model of the bi-fan motif and analyse variants of the motif corresponding to its behaviour under various conditions. In particular, we examine the effects of different steady and pulsed inputs to five variants of the bifan motif, based on evidence in the literature of bifan motifs found in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (commonly known as baker's yeast). Using this model, we characterize the dynamical behaviour of the bi-fan motif for a wide range of biologically plausible parameters and configurations. We find that there is no characteristic behaviour for the motif, and with the correct choice of parameters and of internal structure, very different, indeed even opposite behaviours may be obtained. Conclusion: Even with this relatively simple model, the bi-fan motif can exhibit a wide range of dynamical responses. This suggests that it is difficult to gain significant insights into biological function simply by considering the connection architecture of a gene network, or its decomposition into simple structural motifs. It is necessary to supplement such structural information by kinetic parameters, or dynamic time series experimental data, both of which are currently difficult to obtain. © 2006 Ingram et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Ingram, P. J., Stumpf, M. P. H., & Stark, J. (2006). Network motifs: Structure does not determine function. BMC Genomics, 7.

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