Epigenetic Chromatin Silencing: Bistability and Front Propagation

Sedighi, Mohammad
Sengupta, Anirvan M.
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The role of post-translational modification of histones in eukaryotic gene regulation is well recognized. Epigenetic silencing of genes via heritable chromatin modifications plays a major role in cell fate specification in higher organisms. We formulate a coarse-grained model of chromatin silencing in yeast and study the conditions under which the system becomes bistable, allowing for different epigenetic states. We also study the dynamics of the boundary between the two locally stable states of chromatin: silenced and unsilenced. The model could be of use in guiding the discussion on chromatin silencing in general. In the context of silencing in budding yeast, it helps us understand the phenotype of various mutants, some of which may be non-trivial to see without the help of a mathematical model. One such example is a mutation that reduces the rate of background acetylation of particular histone side-chains that competes with the deacetylation by Sir2p. The resulting negative feedback due to a Sir protein depletion effect gives rise to interesting counter-intuitive consequences. Our mathematical analysis brings forth the different dynamical behaviors possible within the same molecular model and guides the formulation of more refined hypotheses that could be addressed experimentally.
Comment: 19 pages, 5 figures
Quantitative Biology - Molecular Networks