Gene regulatory cascades are ubiquitous in biology. Because regulatory cascades are integrated within complex networks, their quantitative analysis is challenging in native systems. Synthetic biologists have gained quantitative insights into the properties of regulatory cascades by building simple circuits, but sequestration-based regulatory cascades remain relatively unexplored. Particularly, it remains unclear how the cascade components collectively control the output dynamics. Here, we report the construction and quantitative analysis of the longest sequestration-based cascade in Escherichia coli. This cascade consists of four Pseudomonas aeruginosa protein regulators (ExsADCE) that sequester their partner. Our computational analysis showed that the output dynamics are controlled in a complex way by the concentration of the unbounded transcriptional activator ExsA. By systematically varying the cascade length and the synthesis rate of each regulator, we experimentally verified the computational prediction that ExsC plays a role in rapid circuit responses by sequestering the antiactivator ExsD, while ExsD increases response times by decreasing the free ExsA concentration. In contrast, when additional ExsD was introduced to the cascade via indirect negative feedback, the response time was significantly reduced. Sequestration-based regulatory cascades with negative feedback are often found in biology, and thus our finding provides insights into the dynamics of this recurring motif.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7515-7526
Number of pages12
JournalNucleic acids research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


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