Rethinking gene regulatory networks in light of alternative splicing, intrinsically disordered protein domains, and post-translational modifications
Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Models for genetic regulation and cell fate specification characteristically assume that gene regulatory networks (GRNs) are essentially deterministic and exhibit multiple stable states specifying alternative, but pre-figured cell fates. Mounting evidence shows, however, that most eukaryotic precursor RNAs undergo alternative splicing (AS) and that the majority of transcription factors contain intrinsically disordered protein (IDP) domains whose functionalities are context dependent as well as
... ubject to post-translational modification (PTM). Consequently, many transcription factors do not have fixed cis-acting regulatory targets, and developmental determination by GRNs alone is untenable. Modeling these phenomena requires a multi-scale approach to explain how GRNs operationally interact with the intra-and intercellular environments. Evidence shows that AS, IDP, and PTM complicate gene expression and act synergistically to facilitate and promote time-and cell-specific protein modifications involved in cell signaling and cell fate specification and thereby disrupt a strict deterministic GRN-phenotype mapping. The combined effects of AS, IDP, and PTM give proteomes physiological plasticity, adaptive responsiveness, and developmental versatility without inefficiently expanding genome size. They also help us understand how protein functionalities can undergo major evolutionary changes by buffering mutational consequences.