Publications of Eduardo D. Sontag jointly with M.A. Al-Radhawi |
Articles in journal or book chapters |
Metastasis can occur after malignant cells transition from the epithelial phenotype to the mesenchymal phenotype. This transformation allows cells to migrate via the circulatory system and subsequently settle in distant organs after undergoing the reverse transition. The core gene regulatory network controlling these transitions consists of a system made up of coupled SNAIL/miRNA-34 and ZEB1/miRNA-200 subsystems. In this work, we formulate a mathematical model and analyze its long-term behavior. We start by developing a detailed reaction network with 24 state variables. Assuming fast promoter and mRNA kinetics, we then show how to reduce our model to a monotone four-dimensional system. For the reduced system, monotone dynamical systems theory can be used to prove generic convergence to the set of equilibria for all bounded trajectories. The theory does not apply to the full model, which is not monotone, but we briefly discuss results for singularly-perturbed monotone systems that provide a tool to extend convergence results from reduced to full systems, under appropriate time separation assumptions. |
Synthetic gene circuits require cellular resources, which are often limited. This leads to competition for resources by different genes, which alter a synthetic genetic circuit{ extquoteright}s behavior. However, the manner in which competition impacts behavior depends on the identity of the "bottleneck" resource which might be difficult to discern from input-output data. In this paper, we aim at classifying the mathematical structures of resource competition in biochemical circuits. We find that some competition structures can be distinguished by their response to different competitors or resource levels. Specifically, we show that some response curves are always linear, convex, or concave. Furthermore, high levels of certain resources protect the behavior from low competition, while others do not. We also show that competition phenotypes respond differently to various interventions. Such differences can be used to eliminate candidate competition mechanisms when constructing models based on given data. On the other hand, we show that different networks can display mathematically equivalent competition phenotypes.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest. |
In order to control highly-contagious and prolonged outbreaks, public health authorities intervene to institute social distancing, lock-down policies, and other Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). Given the high social, educational, psychological, and economic costs of NPIs, authorities tune them, alternatively tightening up or relaxing rules, with the result that, in effect, a relatively flat infection rate results. For example, during the summer of 2020 in parts of the United States, daily COVID-19 infection numbers dropped to a plateau. This paper approaches NPI tuning as a control-theoretic problem, starting from a simple dynamic model for social distancing based on the classical SIR epidemics model. Using a singular-perturbation approach, the plateau becomes a Quasi-Steady-State (QSS) of a reduced two-dimensional SIR model regulated by adaptive dynamic feedback. It is shown that the QSS can be assigned and it is globally asymptotically stable. Interestingly, the dynamic model for social distancing can be interpreted as a nonlinear integral controller. Problems of data fitting and parameter identifiability are also studied for this model. This letter also discusses how this simple model allows for a meaningful study of the effect of population size, vaccinations, and the emergence of second waves. |
The emergence of and transitions between distinct phenotypes in isogenic cells can be attributed to the intricate interplay of epigenetic marks, external signals, and gene regulatory elements. These elements include chromatin remodelers, histone modifiers, transcription factors, and regulatory RNAs. Mathematical models known as Gene Regulatory Networks (GRNs) are an increasingly important tool to unravel the workings of such complex networks. In such models, epigenetic factors are usually proposed to act on the chromatin regions directly involved in the expression of relevant genes. However, it has been well-established that these factors operate globally and compete with each other for targets genome-wide. Therefore, a perturbation of the activity of a regulator can redistribute epigenetic marks across the genome and modulate the levels of competing regulators. In this paper, we propose a conceptual and mathematical modeling framework that incorporates both local and global competition effects between antagonistic epigenetic regulators in addition to local transcription factors, and show the counter-intuitive consequences of such interactions. We apply our approach to recent experimental findings on the Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT). We show that it can explain the puzzling experimental data as well provide new verifiable predictions. |
A dynamical system entrains to a periodic input if its state converges globally to an attractor with the same period. In particular, for a constant input, the state converges to a unique equilibrium point for any initial condition. We consider the problem of maximizing a weighted average of the system's output along the periodic attractor. The gain of entrainment is the benefit achieved by using a non-constant periodic input relative to a constant input with the same time average. Such a problem amounts to optimal allocation of resources in a periodic manner. We formulate this problem as a periodic optimal control problem, which can be analyzed by means of the Pontryagin maximum principle or solved numerically via powerful software packages. We then apply our framework to a class of nonlinear occupancy models that appear frequently in biological synthesis systems and other applications. We show that, perhaps surprisingly, constant inputs are optimal for various architectures. This suggests that the presence of non-constant periodic signals, which frequently appear in biological occupancy systems, is a signature of an underlying time-varying objective functional being optimized. |
A design for genetically-encoded counters is proposed via repressor-based circuits. An N-bit counter reads sequences of input pulses and displays the total number of pulses, modulo $2^N$. The design is based on distributed computation, with specialized cell types allocated to specific tasks. This allows scalability and bypasses constraints on the maximal number of circuit genes per cell due to toxicity or failures due to resource limitations. The design starts with a single-bit counter. The N-bit counter is then obtained by interconnecting (using diffusible chemicals) a set of N single-bit counters and connector modules. An optimization framework is used to determine appropriate gate parameters and to compute bounds on admissible pulse widths and relaxation (inter-pulse) times, as well as to guide the construction of novel gates. This work can be viewed as a step toward obtaining circuits that are capable of finite-automaton computation, in analogy to digital central processing units. |
Long-term behaviors of biochemical reaction networks (BRNs) are described by steady states in deterministic models and stationary distributions in stochastic models. Unlike deterministic steady states, stationary distributions capturing inherent fluctuations of reactions are extremely difficult to derive analytically due to the curse of dimensionality. Here, we develop a method to derive analytic stationary distributions from deterministic steady states by transforming BRNs to have a special dynamic property, called complex balancing. Specifically, we merge nodes and edges of BRNs to match in- and out-flows of each node. This allows us to derive the stationary distributions of a large class of BRNs, including autophosphorylation networks of EGFR, PAK1, and Aurora B kinase and a genetic toggle switch. This reveals the unique properties of their stochastic dynamics such as robustness, sensitivity, and multimodality. Importantly, we provide a user-friendly computational package, CASTANET, that automatically derives symbolic expressions of the stationary distributions of BRNs to understand their long-term stochasticity. |
Minimal synthesis of Boolean functions is an NP-hard problem, and heuristic approaches typically give suboptimal circuits. However, in the emergent field of synthetic biology, genetic logic designs that use even a single additional Boolean gate can render a circuit unimplementable in a cell. This has led to a renewed interest in the field of optimal multilevel Boolean synthesis. For small numbers (1-4) of inputs, an exhaustive search is possible, but this is impractical for large circuits. In this work, we demonstrate that even though it is challenging to build a database of optimal implementations for anything larger than 4-input Boolean functions, a database of 4-input optimal implementations can be used to greatly reduce the number of logical gates required in larger heuristic logic synthesis implementations. The proposed algorithm combines the heuristic results with an optimal implementation database and yields average improvements of 5.16% for 5-input circuits and 4.54% for 6-input circuits on outputs provided by the logic synthesis tool extit{ABC}. In addition to the gains in the efficiency of the implemented circuits, this work also attests to the importance and practicality of the field of optimal synthesis, even if it cannot directly provide results for larger circuits. The focus of this work is on circuits made exclusively of 2-input NOR gates but the presented results are readily applicable to 2-input NAND circuits as well as (2-input) AND/NOT circuits. In addition, the framework proposed here is likely to be adaptable to other types of circuits. An implementation of the described algorithm, HLM (Hybrid Logic Minimizer), is available at https://github.com/sontaglab/HLM/. |
This paper deals with the analysis of the dynamics of chemical reaction networks, developing a theoretical framework based only on graphical knowledge and applying regardless of the particular form of kinetics. This paper introduces a class of networks that are "structurally (mono) attractive", by which we mean that they are incapable of exhibiting multiple steady states, oscillation, or chaos by the virtue of their reaction graphs. These networks are characterized by the existence of a universal energy-like function which we call a Robust Lyapunov function (RLF). To find such functions, a finite set of rank-one linear systems is introduced, which form the extremals of a linear convex cone. The problem is then reduced to that of finding a common Lyapunov function for this set of extremals. Based on this characterization, a computational package, Lyapunov-Enabled Analysis of Reaction Networks (LEARN), is provided that constructs such functions or rules out their existence. An extensive study of biochemical networks demonstrates that LEARN offers a new unified framework. We study basic motifs, three-body binding, and transcriptional networks. We focus on cellular signalling networks including various post-translational modification cascades, phosphotransfer and phosphorelay networks, T-cell kinetic proofreading, ERK signaling, and the Ribosome Flow Model. |
Starting in the early 2000s, sophisticated technologies have been developed for the rational construction of synthetic genetic networks that implement specified logical functionalities. Despite impressive progress, however, the scaling necessary in order to achieve greater computational power has been hampered by many constraints, including repressor toxicity and the lack of large sets of mutually-orthogonal repressors. As a consequence, a typical circuit contains no more than roughly seven repressor-based gates per cell. A possible way around this scalability problem is to distribute the computation among multiple cell types, which communicate among themselves using diffusible small molecules (DSMs) and each of which implements a small sub-circuit. Examples of DSMs are those employed by quorum sensing systems in bacteria. This paper focuses on systematic ways to implement this distributed approach, in the context of the evaluation of arbitrary Boolean functions. The unique characteristics of genetic circuits and the properties of DSMs require the development of new Boolean synthesis methods, distinct from those classically used in electronic circuit design. In this work, we propose a fast algorithm to synthesize distributed realizations for any Boolean function, under constraints on the number of gates per cell and the number of orthogonal DSMs. The method is based on an exact synthesis algorithm to find the minimal circuit per cell, which in turn allows us to build an extensive database of Boolean functions up to a given number of inputs. For concreteness, we will specifically focus on circuits of up to 4 inputs, which might represent, for example, two chemical inducers and two light inputs at different frequencies. Our method shows that, with a constraint of no more than seven gates per cell, the use of a single DSM increases the total number of realizable circuits by at least 7.58-fold compared to centralized computation. Moreover, when allowing two DSM's, one can realize 99.995\% of all possible 4-input Boolean functions, still with at most 7 gates per cell. The methodology introduced here can be readily adapted to complement recent genetic circuit design automation software. |
Cell-fate networks are traditionally studied within the framework of gene regulatory networks. This paradigm considers only interactions of genes through expressed transcription factors and does not incorporate chromatin modification processes. This paper introduces a mathematical model that seamlessly combines gene regulatory networks and DNA methylation, with the goal of quantitatively characterizing the contribution of epigenetic regulation to gene silencing. The ``Basin of Attraction percentage'' is introduced as a metric to quantify gene silencing abilities. As a case study, a computational and theoretical analysis is carried out for a model of the pluripotent stem cell circuit as well as a simplified self-activating gene model. The results confirm that the methodology quantitatively captures the key role that methylation plays in enhancing the stability of the silenced gene state. |
Synthetic biology constructs often rely upon the introduction of "circuit" genes into host cells, in order to express novel proteins and thus endow the host with a desired behavior. The expression of these new genes "consumes" existing resources in the cell, such as ATP, RNA polymerase, amino acids, and ribosomes. Ribosomal competition among strands of mRNA may be described by a system of nonlinear ODEs called the Ribosomal Flow Model (RFM). The competition for resources between host and circuit genes can be ameliorated by splitting the ribosome pool by use of orthogonal ribosomes, where the circuit genes are exclusively translated by mutated ribosomes. In this work, the RFM system is extended to include orthogonal ribosome competition. This Orthogonal Ribosomal Flow Model (ORFM) is proven to be stable through the use of Robust Lyapunov Functions. The optimization problem of maximizing the weighted protein translation rate by adjusting allocation of ribosomal species is formulated and implemented. Note: publsihed Nov 2020, even though journal reprint says "Nov 2021". |
Metronomic chemotherapy can drastically enhance immunogenic tumor cell death. However, the responsible mechanisms are still incompletely understood. Here, we develop a mathematical model to elucidate the underlying complex interactions between tumor growth, immune system activation, and therapy-mediated immunogenic cell death. Our model is conceptually simple, yet it provides a surprisingly excellent fit to empirical data obtained from a GL261 mouse glioma model treated with cyclophosphamide on a metronomic schedule. The model includes terms representing immune recruitment as well as the emergence of drug resistance during prolonged metronomic treatments. Strikingly, a fixed set of parameters, not adjusted for individuals nor for drug schedule, excellently recapitulates experimental data across various drug regimens, including treatments administered at intervals ranging from 6 to 12 days. Additionally, the model predicts peak immune activation times, rediscovering experimental data that had not been used in parameter fitting or in model construction. The validated model was then used to make predictions about expected tumor-immune dynamics for novel drug administration schedules. Notably, the validated model suggests that immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive intermediates are responsible for the observed phenomena of resistance and immune cell recruitment, and thus for variation of responses with respect to different schedules of drug administration. |
In biological processes such as embryonic development, hematopoietic cell differentiation, and the arising of tumor heterogeneity and consequent resistance to therapy, mechanisms of gene activation and deactivation may play a role in the emergence of phenotypically heterogeneous yet genetically identical (clonal) cellular populations. Mathematically, the variability in phenotypes in the absence of genetic variation can be modeled through the existence of multiple metastable attractors in nonlinear systems subject with stochastic switching, each one of them associated to an alternative epigenetic state. An important theoretical and practical question is that of estimating the number and location of these states, as well as their relative probabilities of occurrence. This paper focuses on a rigorous analytic characterization of multiple modes under slow promoter kinetics, which is a feature of epigenetic regulation. It characterizes the stationary distributions of Chemical Master Equations for gene regulatory networks as a mixture of Poisson distributions. As illustrations, the theory is used to tease out the role of cooperative binding in stochastic models in comparison to deterministic models, and applications are given to various model systems, such as toggle switches in isolation or in communicating populations and a trans-differentiation network. |
We consider a nonlinear SISO system that is a cascade of a scalar "bottleneck entrance" with a stable positive linear system. In response to any periodic inflow, all solutions converge to a unique periodic solution with the same period. We study the problem of maximizing the averaged throughput via controlled switching. We compare two strategies: 1) switching between a high and low value, and 2 ~using a constant inflow equal to the prescribed mean value. We show that no possible switching policy can outperform a constant inflow rate, though it can approach it asymptotically. We describe several potential applications of this problem in traffic systems, ribosome flow models, and scheduling at security checks. |
Conference articles |
Conference version of paper published in IEEE Control Systems Letters, 2020 |
Integral feedback can help achieve robust tracking independently of external disturbances. Motivated by this knowledge, biological engineers have proposed various designs of biomolecular integral feedback controllers to regulate biological processes. In this paper, we theoretically analyze the operation of a particular synthetic biomolecular integral controller, which we have recently proposed and implemented experimentally. Using a combination of methods, ranging from linearized analysis to sum-of-squares (SOS) Lyapunov functions, we demonstrate that, when the controller is operated in closed-loop, it is capable of providing integral corrections to the concentration of an output species in such a manner that the output tracks a reference signal linearly over a large dynamic range. We investigate the output dependency on the reaction parameters through sensitivity analysis, and quantify performance using control theory metrics to characterize response properties, thus providing clear selection guidelines for practical applications. We then demonstrate the stable operation of the closed-loop control system by constructing quartic Lyapunov functions using SOS optimization techniques, and establish global stability for a unique equilibrium. Our analysis suggests that by incorporating effective molecular sequestration, a biomolecular closed-loop integral controller that is capable of robustly regulating gene expression is feasible. |
Cellular reprogramming is traditionally accomplished through an open loop control approach, wherein key transcription factors are injected in cells to steer a gene regulatory network toward a pluripotent state. Recently, a closed loop feedback control strategy was proposed in order to achieve more accurate control. Previous analyses of the controller were based on deterministic models, ignoring the substantial stochasticity in these networks, Here we analyze the Chemical Master Equation for reaction models with and without the feedback controller. We computationally and analytically investigate the performance of the controller in biologically relevant parameter regimes where stochastic effects dictate system dynamics. Our results indicate that the feedback control approach still ensures reprogramming even when analyzed using a stochastic model. |
In the mathematical modeling of cell differentiation, it is common to think of internal states of cells (quanfitied by activation levels of certain genes) as determining different cell types. We study here the "PU.1/GATA-1 circuit" that controls the development of mature blood cells from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). We introduce a rigorous chemical reaction network model of the PU.1/GATA-1 circuit, which incorporates current biological knowledge and find that the resulting ODE model of these biomolecular reactions is incapable of exhibiting multistability, contradicting the fact that differentiation networks have, by definition, alternative stable steady states. When considering instead the stochastic version of this chemical network, we analytically construct the stationary distribution, and are able to show that this distribution is indeed capable of admitting a multiplicity of modes. Finally, we study how a judicious choice of system parameters serves to bias the probabilities towards different stationary states. We remark that certain changes in system parameters can be physically implemented by a biological feedback mechanism; tuning this feedback gives extra degrees of freedom that allow one to assign higher likelihood to some cell types over others. |
Internal reports |
Cell-fate networks are traditionally studied within the framework of gene regulatory networks. This paradigm considers only interactions of genes through expressed transcription factors and does not incorporate chromatin modification processes. This paper introduces a mathematical model that seamlessly combines gene regulatory networks and DNA methylation, with the goal of quantitatively characterizing the contribution of epigenetic regulation to gene silencing. The ``Basin of Attraction percentage'' is introduced as a metric to quantify gene silencing abilities. As a case study, a computational and theoretical analysis is carried out for a model of the pluripotent stem cell circuit as well as a simplified self-activating gene model. The results confirm that the methodology quantitatively captures the key role that methylation plays in enhancing the stability of the silenced gene state. |
Metronomic chemotherapy can drastically enhance immunogenic tumor cell death. However, the responsible mechanisms are still incompletely understood. Here, we develop a mathematical model to elucidate the underlying complex interactions between tumor growth, immune system activation, and therapy-mediated immunogenic cell death. Our model is conceptually simple, yet it provides a surprisingly excellent fit to empirical data obtained from a GL261 mouse glioma model treated with cyclophosphamide on a metronomic schedule. The model includes terms representing immune recruitment as well as the emergence of drug resistance during prolonged metronomic treatments. Strikingly, a fixed set of parameters, not adjusted for individuals nor for drug schedule, excellently recapitulates experimental data across various drug regimens, including treatments administered at intervals ranging from 6 to 12 days. Additionally, the model predicts peak immune activation times, rediscovering experimental data that had not been used in parameter fitting or in model construction. The validated model was then used to make predictions about expected tumor-immune dynamics for novel drug administration schedules. Notably, the validated model suggests that immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive intermediates are responsible for the observed phenomena of resistance and immune cell recruitment, and thus for variation of responses with respect to different schedules of drug administration. |
We consider a compartmental model for ribosome flow during RNA translation, the Ribosome Flow Model (RFM). This model includes a set of positive transition rates that control the flow from every site to the consecutive site. It has been shown that when these rates are time-varying and jointly T-periodic, the protein production rate converges to a unique T-periodic pattern. Here, we study a problem that can be roughly stated as: can periodic rates yield a higher average production rate than constant rates? We rigorously formulate this question and show via simulations, and rigorous analysis in one simple case, that the answer is no. |
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