Cell Syst 2017 01 29;4(1):97-108.e9. Epub 2016 Dec 29.
The Rowland Institute at Harvard, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA. Electronic address:
Cells decide when, where, and to what level to express their genes by "computing" information from transcription factors (TFs) binding to regulatory DNA. How is the information contained in multiple TF-binding sites integrated to dictate the rate of transcription? The dominant conceptual and quantitative model is that TFs combinatorially recruit one another and RNA polymerase to the promoter by direct physical interactions. Here, we develop a quantitative framework to explore kinetic control, an alternative model in which combinatorial gene regulation can result from TFs working on different kinetic steps of the transcription cycle. Kinetic control can generate a wide range of analog and Boolean computations without requiring the input TFs to be simultaneously bound to regulatory DNA. We propose experiments that will illuminate the role of kinetic control in transcription and discuss implications for deciphering the cis-regulatory "code."