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Open Access Research article

DnaA and the timing of chromosome replication in Es-cherichia coli as a function of growth rate

Matthew AA Grant1, Chiara Saggioro2, Ulisse Ferrari3, Bruno Bassetti45, Bianca Sclavi2 and Marco Cosentino Lagomarsino467*

Author Affiliations

1 BSS Group, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge, JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, UK

2 LBPA, UMR 8113 du CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, 61 Avenue du Président Wilson, 94235 CACHAN, France

3 Dip. Fisica, Università "Sapienza", and IPCF-CNR, UOS Roma Piazzale A. Moro 2, I-00185, Rome, Italy

4 Università degli Studi di Milano, Dip. Fisica. Via Celoria 16, 20133 Milano, Italy

5 I.N.F.N. Milano, Italy

6 Génophysique/Genomic Physics Group, UMR7238 CNRS "Microorganism Genomics

7 University Pierre et Marie Curie, 15 rue de l'École de Médecine, 75006 Paris, France

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BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:201  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-201

Published: 21 December 2011



In Escherichia coli, overlapping rounds of DNA replication allow the bacteria to double in faster times than the time required to copy the genome. The precise timing of initiation of DNA replication is determined by a regulatory circuit that depends on the binding of a critical number of ATP-bound DnaA proteins at the origin of replication, resulting in the melting of the DNA and the assembly of the replication complex. The synthesis of DnaA in the cell is controlled by a growth-rate dependent, negatively autoregulated gene found near the origin of replication. Both the regulatory and initiation activity of DnaA depend on its nucleotide bound state and its availability.


In order to investigate the contributions of the different regulatory processes to the timing of initiation of DNA replication at varying growth rates, we formulate a minimal quantitative model of the initiator circuit that includes the key ingredients known to regulate the activity of the DnaA protein. This model describes the average-cell oscillations in DnaA-ATP/DNA during the cell cycle, for varying growth rates. We evaluate the conditions under which this ratio attains the same threshold value at the time of initiation, independently of the growth rate.


We find that a quantitative description of replication initiation by DnaA must rely on the dependency of the basic parameters on growth rate, in order to account for the timing of initiation of DNA replication at different cell doubling times. We isolate two main possible scenarios for this, depending on the roles of DnaA autoregulation and DnaA ATP-hydrolysis regulatory process. One possibility is that the basal rate of regulatory inactivation by ATP hydrolysis must vary with growth rate. Alternatively, some parameters defining promoter activity need to be a function of the growth rate. In either case, the basal rate of gene expression needs to increase with the growth rate, in accordance with the known characteristics of the dnaA promoter. Furthermore, both inactivation and autorepression reduce the amplitude of the cell-cycle oscillations of DnaA-ATP/DNA.