Publications by Eduardo D. Sontag in year 2019
Articles in journal or book chapters
  1. D.K. Agrawal, R. Marshall, V. Noireaux, and E.D. Sontag. In vitro implementation of robust gene regulation in a synthetic biomolecular integral controller. Nature Communications, 10:1-12, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): tracking, synthetic biology, integral feedback, TX/TL, systems biology, dynamical systems, adaptation, internal model principle, identifiability.
    Cells respond to biochemical and physical internal as well as external signals. These signals can be broadly classified into two categories: (a) ``actionable'' or ``reference'' inputs that should elicit appropriate biological or physical responses such as gene expression or motility, and (b) ``disturbances'' or ``perturbations'' that should be ignored or actively filtered-out. These disturbances might be exogenous, such as binding of nonspecific ligands, or endogenous, such as variations in enzyme concentrations or gene copy numbers. In this context, the term robustness describes the capability to produce appropriate responses to reference inputs while at the same time being insensitive to disturbances. These two objectives often conflict with each other and require delicate design trade-offs. Indeed, natural biological systems use complicated and still poorly understood control strategies in order to finely balance the goals of responsiveness and robustness. A better understanding of such natural strategies remains an important scientific goal in itself and will play a role in the construction of synthetic circuits for therapeutic and biosensing applications. A prototype problem in robustly responding to inputs is that of ``robust tracking'', defined by the requirement that some designated internal quantity (for example, the level of expression of a reporter protein) should faithfully follow an input signal while being insensitive to an appropriate class of perturbations. Control theory predicts that a certain type of motif, called integral feedback, will help achieve this goal, and this motif is, in fact, a necessary feature of any system that exhibits robust tracking. Indeed, integral feedback has always been a key component of electrical and mechanical control systems, at least since the 18th century when James Watt employed the centrifugal governor to regulate steam engines. Motivated by this knowledge, biological engineers have proposed various designs for biomolecular integral feedback control mechanisms. However, practical and quantitatively predictable implementations have proved challenging, in part due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate models of transcription, translation, and resource competition in living cells, and the stochasticity inherent in cellular reactions. These challenges prevent first-principles rational design and parameter optimization. In this work, we exploit the versatility of an Escherichia coli cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) to accurately design, model and then build, a synthetic biomolecular integral controller that precisely controls the expression of a target gene. To our knowledge, this is the first design of a functioning gene network that achieves the goal of making gene expression track an externally imposed reference level, achieves this goal even in the presence of disturbances, and whose performance quantitatively agrees with mathematical predictions.

  2. M. A. Al-Radhawi, D. Del Vecchio, and E. D. Sontag. Multi-modality in gene regulatory networks with slow gene binding. PLoS Computational Biology, 15:e1006784, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): multistability, gene networks, Markov Chains, Master Equation, cancer heterogeneity, phenotypic variation, nonlinear systems, stochastic systems, epigenetics, chemical master equations.
    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.

  3. J.M. Greene, J.L. Gevertz, and E. D. Sontag. A mathematical approach to distinguish spontaneous from induced evolution of drug resistance during cancer treatment. JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, DOI: 10.1200/CCI.18.00087:1-20, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): cancer heterogeneity, phenotypic variation, nonlinear systems, epigenetics, oncology, cancer.
    Resistance to chemotherapy is a major impediment to the successful treatment of cancer. Classically, resistance has been thought to arise primarily through random genetic mutations, after which mutated cells expand via Darwinian selection. However, recent experimental evidence suggests that the progression to resistance need not occur randomly, but instead may be induced by the therapeutic agent itself.This process of resistance induction can be a result of genetic changes, or can occur through epigenetic alterations that cause otherwise drug-sensitive cancer cells to undergo ``phenotype switching''. This relatively novel notion of resistance further complicates the already challenging task of designing treatment protocols that minimize the risk of evolving resistance. In an effort to better understand treatment resistance, we have developed a mathematical modeling framework that incorporates both random and drug-induced resistance. Our model demonstrates that the ability (or lack thereof) of a drug to induce resistance can result in qualitatively different responses to the same drug dose and delivery schedule. The importance of induced resistance in treatment response led us to ask if, in our model, one can determine the resistance induction rate of a drug for a given treatment protocol. Not only could we prove that the induction parameter in our model is theoretically identifiable, we have also proposed a possible in vitro experiment which could practically be used to determine a treatment's propensity to induce resistance.

  4. M. Margaliot and E.D. Sontag. Revisiting totally positive differential systems: A tutorial and new results. Automatica, 101:1-14, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): tridiagonal systems, cooperative systems, monotone systems.
    A matrix is totally nonnegative (resp., totally positive) if all its minors are nonnegative (resp., positive). This paper draws connections between B. Schwarz's 1970 work on TN and TP matrices to Smillie's 1984 and Smith's 1991 work on stability of nonlinear tridiagonal cooperative systems, simplifying proofs in the later paper and suggesting new research questions.

  5. E.V. Nikolaev, A. Zloza, and E.D. Sontag. Immunobiochemical reconstruction of influenza lung infection - melanoma skin cancer interactions. Frontiers in Immunology, 10:Article 4, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): oncology, cancer, infections, immunology, checkpoint inhibition, systems biology.
    Recent experimental results from the Zloza lab combined a mouse model of influenza A virus (IAV) infection (A/H1N1/PR8) and a highly aggressive model of infection-unrelated cancer, B16-F10 skin melanoma. This paper showed that acute influenza infection of the lung promotes distal melanoma growth in the dermis of the flank and leads to decreased host survival. Here, we proceed to ground the experimental observations in a mechanistic immunobiochemical model that incorporates the T cell receptor signaling pathway, various transcription factors, and a gene regulatory network (GRN). A core component of our model is a biochemical motif, which we call a Triple Incoherent Feed-Forward Loop (TIFFL), and which reflects known interactions between IRF4, Blimp-1, and Bcl-6. The different activity levels of the TIFFL components, as a function of the cognate antigen levels and the given inflammation context, manifest themselves in phenotypically distinct outcomes. Specifically, both the TIFFL reconstruction and quantitative estimates obtained from the model allowed us to formulate a hypothesis that it is the loss of the fundamental TIFFL-induced adaptation of the expression of PD-1 receptors on anti-melanoma CD8+ T cells that constitutes the essence of the previously unrecognized immunologic factor that promotes the experimentally observed distal tumor growth in the presence of acute non-ocogenic infection. We therefore hope that this work can further highlight the importance of adaptive mechanisms by which immune functions contribute to the balance between self and non-self immune tolerance, adaptive resistance, and the strength of TCR-induced activation, thus contributing to the understanding of a broader complexity of fundamental interactions between pathogens and tumors.

  6. M. Sadeghi, M.A. Al-Radhawi, M. Margaliot, and E.D. Sontag. No switching policy is optimal for a positive linear system with a bottleneck entrance. IEEE Control Systems Letters, 3:889-894, 2019. Note: (Also in Proc. 2019 IEEE Conf. Decision and Control.). [PDF] Keyword(s): entrainment, switched systems, ribosome flow model, traffic systems, nonlinear systems, nonlinear control.
    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.

  7. S. Wang, J.-R. Lin, E.D. Sontag, and P.K. Sorger. Inferring reaction network structure from single-cell, multiplex data, using toric systems theory. PLoS Computational Biology, 15:e1007311, 2019. [WWW] [PDF]
    The goal of many single-cell studies on eukaryotic cells is to gain insight into the biochemical reactions that control cell fate and state. This paperintroduces the concept of effective stoichiometric space (ESS) to guide the reconstruction of biochemical networks from multiplexed, fixed time-point, single-cell data. In contrast to methods based solely on statistical models of data, the ESS method leverages the power of the geometric theory of toric varieties to begin unraveling the structure of chemical reaction networks (CRN). This application of toric theory enables a data-driven mapping of covariance relationships in single cell measurements into stoichiometric information, one in which each cell subpopulation has its associated ESS interpreted in terms of CRN theory. In the development of ESS we reframe certain aspects of the theory of CRN to better match data analysis. As an application of our approach we process cytomery- and image-based single-cell datasets and identify differences in cells treated with kinase inhibitors. Our approach is directly applicable to data acquired using readily accessible experimental methods such as Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS) and multiplex immunofluorescence.

Conference articles
  1. D. K. Agrawal, R. Marshall, M. Ali Al-Radhawi, V. Noireaux, and E. D. Sontag. Some remarks on robust gene regulation in a biomolecular integral controller. In Proc. 2019 IEEE Conf. Decision and Control, pages 2820-2825, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): adaptation, biological adaptation, perfect adaptation, tracking, synthetic biology, integral feedback, TX/TL, systems biology, dynamical systems, adaptation, internal model principle.
    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.

  2. S. Bruno, M.A. Al-Radhawi, E.D. Sontag, and D. Del Vecchio. Stochastic analysis of genetic feedback controllers to reprogram a pluripotency gene regulatory network. In Proc. 2019 Automatic Control Conference, pages 5089-5096, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): multistability, biochemical networks, systems biology, stochastic systems, cell differentiation, multistationarity, chemical master equations.
    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.

Internal reports
  1. T. Chen, M. A. Al-Radhawi, and E. D. Sontag. A mathematical model exhibiting the effect of DNA methylation on the stability boundary in cell-fate networks. Technical report, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2019. Note: BioRxiv preprint 10.1101/2019.12.19.883280. Keyword(s): Cell-fate networks, gene regulatory networks, DNA methylation, epigenetic regulation, pluripotent stem cell circuit.
    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.

  2. J.L. Gevertz, J.M. Greene, and E.D. Sontag. Validation of a mathematical model of cancer incorporating spontaneous and induced evolution to drug resistance. Technical report, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2019. Note: BioRxiv preprint 10.1101/2019.12.27.889444. Keyword(s): cancer heterogeneity, phenotypic variation, nonlinear systems, epigenetics, optimal control theory, oncology, cancer.
    This paper continues the study of a model which was introduced in earlier work by the authors to study spontaneous and induced evolution to drug resistance under chemotherapy. The model is fit to existing experimental data, and is then validated on additional data that had not been used when fitting. In addition, an optimal control problem is studied numerically.

  3. M. Margaliot and E.D. Sontag. Compact attractors of an antithetic integral feedback system have a simple structure. Technical report, bioRxiv 2019/868000v1, 2019. [PDF] Keyword(s): Poincare-Bendixson, k-cooperative dynamical systems, sign-regular matrices, synthetic biology, antithetic feedback.
    Since its introduction by Briat, Gupta and Khammash, the antithetic feedback controller design has attracted considerable attention in both theoretical and experimental systems biology. The case in which the plant is a two-dimensional linear system (making the closed-loop system a nonlinear four-dimensional system) has been analyzed in much detail. This system has a unique equilibrium but, depending on parameters, it may exhibit periodic orbits. This note shows that, for any parameter choices, every bounded trajectory satisfies a Poincare'-Bendixson property: the dynamics in the omega-limit set of any precompact solution is conjugate to the dynamics in a compact invariant subset of a two-dimensional Lipschitz dynamical system, thus precluding chaotic and other strange attractors.

  4. A. P. Tran, M. A. Al-Radhawi, I. Kareva, J. Wu, D. J. Waxman, and E. D. Sontag. Delicate balances in cancer chemotherapy: modeling immune recruitment and emergence of systemic drug resistance. Technical report, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2019. Note: BioRxiv 2019.12.12.874891. Keyword(s): chemotherapy, immunology, immune system, oncology, cancer, metronomic.
    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.



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Last modified: Thu Sep 24 12:35:48 2020
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