A Simple Negative Interaction in the Positive Transcriptional Feedback of a Single Gene Is Sufficient to Produce Reliable Oscillations
Negative and positive transcriptional feedback loops are present in natural and synthetic genetic oscillators. A single gene with negative transcriptional feedback needs a time delay and sufficiently strong nonlinearity in the transmission of the feedback signal in order to produce biochemical rhythms. A single gene with only positive transcriptional feedback does not produce oscillations. Here, we demonstrate that this single-gene network in conjunction with a simple negative interaction can also easily produce rhythms. We examine a model comprised of two well-differentiated parts. The first is a positive feedback created by a protein that binds to the promoter of its own gene and activates the transcription. The second is a negative interaction in which a repressor molecule prevents this protein from binding to its promoter. A stochastic study shows that the system is robust to noise. A deterministic study identifies that the dynamics of the oscillator are mainly driven by two types of biomolecules: the protein, and the complex formed by the repressor and this protein. The main conclusion of this paper is that a simple and usual negative interaction, such as degradation, sequestration or inhibition, acting on the positive transcriptional feedback of a single gene is a sufficient condition to produce reliable oscillations. One gene is enough and the positive transcriptional feedback signal does not need to activate a second repressor gene. This means that at the genetic level an explicit negative feedback loop is not necessary. The model needs neither cooperative binding reactions nor the formation of protein multimers. Therefore, our findings could help to clarify the design principles of cellular clocks and constitute a new efficient tool for engineering synthetic genetic oscillators.