Small regulatory RNAs are central players in the regulation of many cellular processes across all kingdoms of life. Experiments in mouse and human have shown that a typical small RNA may regulate the expression of many different genes, suggesting that small RNAs act as global regulators. It is noted though that most targets respond only weakly to the presence of the small RNA. At the same time, evidence in bacteria and animals suggest that the phenotypes associated with small RNA mutants are only due to a few of their targets. Here we assume that targets regulated by a small RNA to control function is in fact small, and propose that the role of the many other weak targets is to confer robustness to the regulation of these few principal targets. Through mathematical modeling we show that auxiliary targets may significantly buffer both number and kinetic fluctuations of the principal targets, with only minor slowdown in the kinetics of response. Analysis of genomic data suggests that auxiliary targets experience a nonspecific evolutionary pressure, playing a role at the system level. Our work is of importance for studies on small RNA functions, and impacts on the understanding of small RNA evolution. © 2013 Biophysical Society.
Jost, D., Nowojewski, A., & Levine, E. (2013). Regulating the many to benefit the few: Role of weak small RNA targets. Biophysical Journal, 104(8), 1773–1782. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2013.02.020