Interplay of Gene Expression Noise and Ultrasensitive Dynamics Affects Bacterial Operon Organization
Ray, J. Christian J.
Igoshin, Oleg A.
Bacterial chromosomes are organized into polycistronic cotranscribed operons, but the evolutionary pressures maintaining them are unclear. We hypothesized that operons alter gene expression noise characteristics, resulting in selection for or against maintaining operons depending on network architecture. Mathematical models for 6 functional classes of network modules showed that three classes exhibited decreased noise and 3 exhibited increased noise with same-operon cotranscription of interacting proteins. Noise reduction was often associated with a decreased chance of reaching an ultrasensitive threshold. Stochastic simulations of the lac operon demonstrated that the predicted effects of transcriptional coupling hold for a complex network module. We employed bioinformatic analysis to find overrepresentation of noiseminimizing operon organization compared with randomized controls. Among constitutively expressed physically interacting protein pairs, higher coupling frequencies appeared at lower expression levels, where noise effects are expected to be dominant. Our results thereby suggest an important role for gene expression noise, in many cases interacting with an ultrasensitive switch, in maintaining or selecting for operons in bacterial chromosomes.