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Open Access Research article

Global transcription regulation of RK2 plasmids: a case study in the combined use of dynamical mathematical models and statistical inference for integration of experimental data and hypothesis exploration

Dorota Herman1*, Christopher M Thomas2 and Dov J Stekel3

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Systems Biology, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

2 School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

3 Integrative Systems Biology, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, LE12 5RD, UK

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BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:119  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-119

Published: 29 July 2011

Abstract

Background

IncP-1 plasmids are broad host range plasmids that have been found in clinical and environmental bacteria. They often carry genes for antibiotic resistance or catabolic pathways. The archetypal IncP-1 plasmid RK2 is a well-characterized biological system, with a fully sequenced and annotated genome and wide range of experimental measurements. Its central control operon, encoding two global regulators KorA and KorB, is a natural example of a negatively self-regulated operon. To increase our understanding of the regulation of this operon, we have constructed a dynamical mathematical model using Ordinary Differential Equations, and employed a Bayesian inference scheme, Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) using the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm, as a way of integrating experimental measurements and a priori knowledge. We also compared MCMC and Metabolic Control Analysis (MCA) as approaches for determining the sensitivity of model parameters.

Results

We identified two distinct sets of parameter values, with different biological interpretations, that fit and explain the experimental data. This allowed us to highlight the proportion of repressor protein as dimers as a key experimental measurement defining the dynamics of the system. Analysis of joint posterior distributions led to the identification of correlations between parameters for protein synthesis and partial repression by KorA or KorB dimers, indicating the necessary use of joint posteriors for correct parameter estimation. Using MCA, we demonstrated that the system is highly sensitive to the growth rate but insensitive to repressor monomerization rates in their selected value regions; the latter outcome was also confirmed by MCMC. Finally, by examining a series of different model refinements for partial repression by KorA or KorB dimers alone, we showed that a model including partial repression by KorA and KorB was most compatible with existing experimental data.

Conclusions

We have demonstrated that the combination of dynamical mathematical models with Bayesian inference is valuable in integrating diverse experimental data and identifying key determinants and parameters for the IncP-1 central control operon. Moreover, we have shown that Bayesian inference and MCA are complementary methods for identification of sensitive parameters. We propose that this demonstrates generic value in applying this combination of approaches to systems biology dynamical modelling.