Doctor of Philosophy, Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH Zurich) (2015)
Cells receive a multitude of signals from the environment, but how they process simultaneous signaling inputs is not well understood. Response to infection, for example, involves parallel activation of multiple Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that converge on the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) pathway. Although we increasingly understand inflammatory responses for isolated signals, it is not clear how cells process multiple signals that co-occur in physiological settings. We therefore examined a bacterial infection scenario involving co-stimulation of TLR4 and TLR2. Independent stimulation of these receptors induced distinct NF-κB dynamic profiles, although surprisingly, under co-stimulation, single cells continued to show ligand-specific dynamic responses characteristic of TLR2 or TLR4 signaling rather than a mixed response, comprising a cellular decision that we term "non-integrative" processing. Iterating modeling and microfluidic experiments revealed that non-integrative processing occurred through interaction of switch-like NF-κB activation, receptor-specific processing timescales, cell-to-cell variability, and TLR cross-tolerance mediated by multilayer negative feedback.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.03.027
View details for Web of Science ID 000398231800011
View details for PubMedID 28380352
Oscillations and noise drive many processes in biology, but how both affect the activity of the transcription factor nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) is not understood. Here, we observe that when NF-κB oscillations are entrained by periodic tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inputs in experiments, NF-κB exhibits jumps between frequency modes, a phenomenon we call "cellular mode-hopping." By comparing stochastic simulations of NF-κB oscillations to deterministic simulations conducted inside and outside the chaotic regime of parameter space, we show that noise facilitates mode-hopping in all regimes. However, when the deterministic system is driven by chaotic dynamics, hops between modes are erratic and short-lived, whereas in experiments, the system spends several periods in one entrainment mode before hopping and rarely visits more than two modes. The experimental behavior matches our simulations of noise-induced mode-hopping outside the chaotic regime. We suggest that mode-hopping is a mechanism by which different NF-κB-dependent genes under frequency control can be expressed at different times.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cels.2016.11.014
View details for Web of Science ID 000395782800008
View details for PubMedID 28009264
Digital signaling enhances robustness of cellular decisions in noisy environments, but it is unclear how digital systems transmit temporal information about a stimulus. To understand how temporal input information is encoded and decoded by the NF-κB system, we studied transcription factor dynamics and gene regulation under dose- and duration-modulated inflammatory inputs. Mathematical modeling predicted and microfluidic single-cell experiments confirmed that integral of the stimulus (or area, concentration × duration) controls the fraction of cells that activate NF-κB in the population. However, stimulus temporal profile determined NF-κB dynamics, cell-to-cell variability, and gene expression phenotype. A sustained, weak stimulation lead to heterogeneous activation and delayed timing that is transmitted to gene expression. In contrast, a transient, strong stimulus with the same area caused rapid and uniform dynamics. These results show that digital NF-κB signaling enables multidimensional control of cellular phenotype via input profile, allowing parallel and independent control of single-cell activation probability and population heterogeneity.
View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.08931
View details for Web of Science ID 000363799000001
View details for PubMedID 26488364
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4608393
Cells must respond sensitively to time-varying inputs in complex signaling environments. To understand how signaling networks process dynamic inputs into gene expression outputs and the role of noise in cellular information processing, we studied the immune pathway NF-κB under periodic cytokine inputs using microfluidic single-cell measurements and stochastic modeling. We find that NF-κB dynamics in fibroblasts synchronize with oscillating TNF signal and become entrained, leading to significantly increased NF-κB oscillation amplitude and mRNA output compared to non-entrained response. Simulations show that intrinsic biochemical noise in individual cells improves NF-κB oscillation and entrainment, whereas cell-to-cell variability in NF-κB natural frequency creates population robustness, together enabling entrainment over a wider range of dynamic inputs. This wide range is confirmed by experiments where entrained cells were measured under all input periods. These results indicate that synergy between oscillation and noise allows cells to achieve efficient gene expression in dynamically changing signaling environments.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2015.01.013
View details for Web of Science ID 000349208000006
View details for PubMedID 25635454
Time-dependent analysis of dynamic processes in single live cells is a revolutionary technique for the quantitative studies of signaling networks. Here we describe an experimental pipeline and associated protocol that incorporate microfluidic cell culture, precise stimulation of cells with signaling molecules or drugs, live-cell microscopy, computerized cell tracking, on-chip staining of key proteins and subsequent retrieval of cells for high-throughput gene expression analysis using microfluidic quantitative PCR (qPCR). Compared with traditional culture dish approaches, this pipeline enhances experimental precision and throughput by orders of magnitude and introduces much-desired new capabilities in cell and fluid handling, thus representing a major step forward in dynamic single-cell analysis. A combination of microfluidic membrane valves, automation and a streamlined protocol now enables a single researcher to generate 1 million data points on single-cell protein localization within 1 week, in various cell types and densities, under 48 predesigned experimental conditions selected from different signaling molecules or drugs, their doses, timings and combinations.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nprot.2014.120
View details for Web of Science ID 000338777400013
View details for PubMedID 24967621