Building the cellular puzzle: Control in multi-level reaction networks
Quantitative conceptual tools dealing with control and regulation of cellular processes have been mostly developed for and applied to the pathways of intermediary metabolism. Yet, cellular processes are organized in different levels, metabolism forming the lowest level in a cascade of processes. Well-known examples are the DNA-mRNA-enzyme-metabolism cascade and the signal transduction cascades consisting of covalent modification cycles. The reaction network that constitutes each level can be viewed as a "module" in which reactions are linked by mass transfer. Although in principle all of these cellular modules are ultimately linked by mass transfer, in practice they can often be regarded as "isolated" from each other in terms of mass transfer. Here modules can interact with each other only by means of regulatory or catalytic effects - a chemical species in one module may affect the rate of a reaction in another module by binding to an enzyme or transport system or by acting as a catalyst. This paper seeks to answer two questions about the control and regulation of such multi-level reaction networks: (i) How can the control properties of the system as a whole be expressed in terms of the control properties of individual modules and the effects between modules? (ii) How do the control properties of a module in its isolated state change when it is embedded in the whole system through its connections with the other modules? In order to answer these questions a quantitative theoretical framework is developed and applied to systems containing two, three or four fully interacting modules; it is shown how it can be extended in principle to n modules. This newly developed theory therefore makes it possible to quantitatively dissect intermodular, internal and external regulation in multi-level systems. © 2001 Academic Press.