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Escher: A Web Application for Building, Sharing, and Embedding Data-Rich Visualizations of Biological Pathways

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 16:00

by Zachary A. King, Andreas Dräger, Ali Ebrahim, Nikolaus Sonnenschein, Nathan E. Lewis, Bernhard O. Palsson

Escher is a web application for visualizing data on biological pathways. Three key features make Escher a uniquely effective tool for pathway visualization. First, users can rapidly design new pathway maps. Escher provides pathway suggestions based on user data and genome-scale models, so users can draw pathways in a semi-automated way. Second, users can visualize data related to genes or proteins on the associated reactions and pathways, using rules that define which enzymes catalyze each reaction. Thus, users can identify trends in common genomic data types (e.g. RNA-Seq, proteomics, ChIP)—in conjunction with metabolite- and reaction-oriented data types (e.g. metabolomics, fluxomics). Third, Escher harnesses the strengths of web technologies (SVG, D3, developer tools) so that visualizations can be rapidly adapted, extended, shared, and embedded. This paper provides examples of each of these features and explains how the development approach used for Escher can be used to guide the development of future visualization tools.
Categories: Journal Articles

Prediction of Functionally Important Phospho-Regulatory Events in Xenopus laevis Oocytes

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 16:00

by Jeffrey R. Johnson, Silvia D. Santos, Tasha Johnson, Ursula Pieper, Marta Strumillo, Omar Wagih, Andrej Sali, Nevan J. Krogan, Pedro Beltrao

The African clawed frog Xenopus laevis is an important model organism for studies in developmental and cell biology, including cell-signaling. However, our knowledge of X. laevis protein post-translational modifications remains scarce. Here, we used a mass spectrometry-based approach to survey the phosphoproteome of this species, compiling a list of 2636 phosphosites. We used structural information and phosphoproteomic data for 13 other species in order to predict functionally important phospho-regulatory events. We found that the degree of conservation of phosphosites across species is predictive of sites with known molecular function. In addition, we predicted kinase-protein interactions for a set of cell-cycle kinases across all species. The degree of conservation of kinase-protein interactions was found to be predictive of functionally relevant regulatory interactions. Finally, using comparative protein structure models, we find that phosphosites within structured domains tend to be located at positions with high conformational flexibility. Our analysis suggests that a small class of phosphosites occurs in positions that have the potential to regulate protein conformation.
Categories: Journal Articles

Asymmetric Evolutionary Games

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:00

by Alex McAvoy, Christoph Hauert

Evolutionary game theory is a powerful framework for studying evolution in populations of interacting individuals. A common assumption in evolutionary game theory is that interactions are symmetric, which means that the players are distinguished by only their strategies. In nature, however, the microscopic interactions between players are nearly always asymmetric due to environmental effects, differing baseline characteristics, and other possible sources of heterogeneity. To model these phenomena, we introduce into evolutionary game theory two broad classes of asymmetric interactions: ecological and genotypic. Ecological asymmetry results from variation in the environments of the players, while genotypic asymmetry is a consequence of the players having differing baseline genotypes. We develop a theory of these forms of asymmetry for games in structured populations and use the classical social dilemmas, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Snowdrift Game, for illustrations. Interestingly, asymmetric games reveal essential differences between models of genetic evolution based on reproduction and models of cultural evolution based on imitation that are not apparent in symmetric games.
Categories: Journal Articles

Mechanism for Collective Cell Alignment in Myxococcus xanthus Bacteria

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:00

by Rajesh Balagam, Oleg A. Igoshin

Myxococcus xanthus cells self-organize into aligned groups, clusters, at various stages of their lifecycle. Formation of these clusters is crucial for the complex dynamic multi-cellular behavior of these bacteria. However, the mechanism underlying the cell alignment and clustering is not fully understood. Motivated by studies of clustering in self-propelled rods, we hypothesized that M. xanthus cells can align and form clusters through pure mechanical interactions among cells and between cells and substrate. We test this hypothesis using an agent-based simulation framework in which each agent is based on the biophysical model of an individual M. xanthus cell. We show that model agents, under realistic cell flexibility values, can align and form cell clusters but only when periodic reversals of cell directions are suppressed. However, by extending our model to introduce the observed ability of cells to deposit and follow slime trails, we show that effective trail-following leads to clusters in reversing cells. Furthermore, we conclude that mechanical cell alignment combined with slime-trail-following is sufficient to explain the distinct clustering behaviors observed for wild-type and non-reversing M. xanthus mutants in recent experiments. Our results are robust to variation in model parameters, match the experimentally observed trends and can be applied to understand surface motility patterns of other bacterial species.
Categories: Journal Articles

Refinement and Pattern Formation in Neural Circuits by the Interaction of Traveling Waves with Spike-Timing Dependent Plasticity

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:00

by James E. M. Bennett, Wyeth Bair

Traveling waves in the developing brain are a prominent source of highly correlated spiking activity that may instruct the refinement of neural circuits. A candidate mechanism for mediating such refinement is spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP), which translates correlated activity patterns into changes in synaptic strength. To assess the potential of these phenomena to build useful structure in developing neural circuits, we examined the interaction of wave activity with STDP rules in simple, biologically plausible models of spiking neurons. We derive an expression for the synaptic strength dynamics showing that, by mapping the time dependence of STDP into spatial interactions, traveling waves can build periodic synaptic connectivity patterns into feedforward circuits with a broad class of experimentally observed STDP rules. The spatial scale of the connectivity patterns increases with wave speed and STDP time constants. We verify these results with simulations and demonstrate their robustness to likely sources of noise. We show how this pattern formation ability, which is analogous to solutions of reaction-diffusion systems that have been widely applied to biological pattern formation, can be harnessed to instruct the refinement of postsynaptic receptive fields. Our results hold for rich, complex wave patterns in two dimensions and over several orders of magnitude in wave speeds and STDP time constants, and they provide predictions that can be tested under existing experimental paradigms. Our model generalizes across brain areas and STDP rules, allowing broad application to the ubiquitous occurrence of traveling waves and to wave-like activity patterns induced by moving stimuli.
Categories: Journal Articles

Pluripotency, Differentiation, and Reprogramming: A Gene Expression Dynamics Model with Epigenetic Feedback Regulation

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:00

by Tadashi Miyamoto, Chikara Furusawa, Kunihiko Kaneko

Embryonic stem cells exhibit pluripotency: they can differentiate into all types of somatic cells. Pluripotent genes such as Oct4 and Nanog are activated in the pluripotent state, and their expression decreases during cell differentiation. Inversely, expression of differentiation genes such as Gata6 and Gata4 is promoted during differentiation. The gene regulatory network controlling the expression of these genes has been described, and slower-scale epigenetic modifications have been uncovered. Although the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells is normally irreversible, reprogramming of cells can be experimentally manipulated to regain pluripotency via overexpression of certain genes. Despite these experimental advances, the dynamics and mechanisms of differentiation and reprogramming are not yet fully understood. Based on recent experimental findings, we constructed a simple gene regulatory network including pluripotent and differentiation genes, and we demonstrated the existence of pluripotent and differentiated states from the resultant dynamical-systems model. Two differentiation mechanisms, interaction-induced switching from an expression oscillatory state and noise-assisted transition between bistable stationary states, were tested in the model. The former was found to be relevant to the differentiation process. We also introduced variables representing epigenetic modifications, which controlled the threshold for gene expression. By assuming positive feedback between expression levels and the epigenetic variables, we observed differentiation in expression dynamics. Additionally, with numerical reprogramming experiments for differentiated cells, we showed that pluripotency was recovered in cells by imposing overexpression of two pluripotent genes and external factors to control expression of differentiation genes. Interestingly, these factors were consistent with the four Yamanaka factors, Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and Myc, which were necessary for the establishment of induced pluripotent stem cells. These results, based on a gene regulatory network and expression dynamics, contribute to our wider understanding of pluripotency, differentiation, and reprogramming of cells, and they provide a fresh viewpoint on robustness and control during development.
Categories: Journal Articles

Structure Learning in Bayesian Sensorimotor Integration

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 16:00

by Tim Genewein, Eduard Hez, Zeynab Razzaghpanah, Daniel A. Braun

Previous studies have shown that sensorimotor processing can often be described by Bayesian learning, in particular the integration of prior and feedback information depending on its degree of reliability. Here we test the hypothesis that the integration process itself can be tuned to the statistical structure of the environment. We exposed human participants to a reaching task in a three-dimensional virtual reality environment where we could displace the visual feedback of their hand position in a two dimensional plane. When introducing statistical structure between the two dimensions of the displacement, we found that over the course of several days participants adapted their feedback integration process in order to exploit this structure for performance improvement. In control experiments we found that this adaptation process critically depended on performance feedback and could not be induced by verbal instructions. Our results suggest that structural learning is an important meta-learning component of Bayesian sensorimotor integration.
Categories: Journal Articles

Changes in Postural Syntax Characterize Sensory Modulation and Natural Variation of C. elegans Locomotion

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:00

by Roland F. Schwarz, Robyn Branicky, Laura J. Grundy, William R. Schafer, André E. X. Brown

Locomotion is driven by shape changes coordinated by the nervous system through time; thus, enumerating an animal's complete repertoire of shape transitions would provide a basis for a comprehensive understanding of locomotor behaviour. Here we introduce a discrete representation of behaviour in the nematode C. elegans. At each point in time, the worm’s posture is approximated by its closest matching template from a set of 90 postures and locomotion is represented as sequences of postures. The frequency distribution of postural sequences is heavy-tailed with a core of frequent behaviours and a much larger set of rarely used behaviours. Responses to optogenetic and environmental stimuli can be quantified as changes in postural syntax: worms show different preferences for different sequences of postures drawn from the same set of templates. A discrete representation of behaviour will enable the use of methods developed for other kinds of discrete data in bioinformatics and language processing to be harnessed for the study of behaviour.
Categories: Journal Articles

Tipping the Scale from Disorder to Alpha-helix: Folding of Amphiphilic Peptides in the Presence of Macroscopic and Molecular Interfaces

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:00

by Cahit Dalgicdir, Christoph Globisch, Christine Peter, Mehmet Sayar

Secondary amphiphilicity is inherent to the secondary structural elements of proteins. By forming energetically favorable contacts with each other these amphiphilic building blocks give rise to the formation of a tertiary structure. Small proteins and peptides, on the other hand, are usually too short to form multiple structural elements and cannot stabilize them internally. Therefore, these molecules are often found to be structurally ambiguous up to the point of a large degree of intrinsic disorder in solution. Consequently, their conformational preference is particularly susceptible to environmental conditions such as pH, salts, or presence of interfaces. In this study we use molecular dynamics simulations to analyze the conformational behavior of two synthetic peptides, LKKLLKLLKKLLKL (LK) and EAALAEALAEALAE (EALA), with built-in secondary amphiphilicity upon forming an alpha-helix. We use these model peptides to systematically study their aggregation and the influence of macroscopic and molecular interfaces on their conformational preferences. We show that the peptides are neither random coils in bulk water nor fully formed alpha helices, but adopt multiple conformations and secondary structure elements with short lifetimes. These provide a basis for conformation-selection and population-shift upon environmental changes. Differences in these peptides’ response to macroscopic and molecular interfaces (presented by an aggregation partner) can be linked to their inherent alpha-helical tendencies in bulk water. We find that the peptides’ aggregation behavior is also strongly affected by presence or absence of an interface, and rather subtly depends on their surface charge and hydrophobicity.
Categories: Journal Articles

Formation and Dynamics of Waves in a Cortical Model of Cholinergic Modulation

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:00

by James P. Roach, Eshel Ben-Jacob, Leonard M. Sander, Michal R. Zochowski

Acetylcholine (ACh) is a regulator of neural excitability and one of the neurochemical substrates of sleep. Amongst the cellular effects induced by cholinergic modulation are a reduction in spike-frequency adaptation (SFA) and a shift in the phase response curve (PRC). We demonstrate in a biophysical model how changes in neural excitability and network structure interact to create three distinct functional regimes: localized asynchronous, traveling asynchronous, and traveling synchronous. Our results qualitatively match those observed experimentally. Cortical activity during slow wave sleep (SWS) differs from that during REM sleep or waking states. During SWS there are traveling patterns of activity in the cortex; in other states stationary patterns occur. Our model is a network composed of Hodgkin-Huxley type neurons with a M-current regulated by ACh. Regulation of ACh level can account for dynamical changes between functional regimes. Reduction of the magnitude of this current recreates the reduction in SFA the shift from a type 2 to a type 1 PRC observed in the presence of ACh. When SFA is minimal (in waking or REM sleep state, high ACh) patterns of activity are localized and easily pinned by network inhomogeneities. When SFA is present (decreasing ACh), traveling waves of activity naturally arise. A further decrease in ACh leads to a high degree of synchrony within traveling waves. We also show that the level of ACh determines how sensitive network activity is to synaptic heterogeneity. These regimes may have a profound functional significance as stationary patterns may play a role in the proper encoding of external input as memory and traveling waves could lead to synaptic regularization, giving unique insights into the role and significance of ACh in determining patterns of cortical activity and functional differences arising from the patterns.
Categories: Journal Articles

Correction: Time-Course Gene Set Analysis for Longitudinal Gene Expression Data

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:00

by The PLOS Computational Biology Staff

Categories: Journal Articles

Self-Organization of Microcircuits in Networks of Spiking Neurons with Plastic Synapses

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 16:00

by Gabriel Koch Ocker, Ashok Litwin-Kumar, Brent Doiron

The synaptic connectivity of cortical networks features an overrepresentation of certain wiring motifs compared to simple random-network models. This structure is shaped, in part, by synaptic plasticity that promotes or suppresses connections between neurons depending on their joint spiking activity. Frequently, theoretical studies focus on how feedforward inputs drive plasticity to create this network structure. We study the complementary scenario of self-organized structure in a recurrent network, with spike timing-dependent plasticity driven by spontaneous dynamics. We develop a self-consistent theory for the evolution of network structure by combining fast spiking covariance with a slow evolution of synaptic weights. Through a finite-size expansion of network dynamics we obtain a low-dimensional set of nonlinear differential equations for the evolution of two-synapse connectivity motifs. With this theory in hand, we explore how the form of the plasticity rule drives the evolution of microcircuits in cortical networks. When potentiation and depression are in approximate balance, synaptic dynamics depend on weighted divergent, convergent, and chain motifs. For additive, Hebbian STDP these motif interactions create instabilities in synaptic dynamics that either promote or suppress the initial network structure. Our work provides a consistent theoretical framework for studying how spiking activity in recurrent networks interacts with synaptic plasticity to determine network structure.
Categories: Journal Articles

Experimentally Verified Parameter Sets for Modelling Heterogeneous Neocortical Pyramidal-Cell Populations

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 16:00

by Paul M. Harrison, Laurent Badel, Mark J. Wall, Magnus J. E. Richardson

Models of neocortical networks are increasingly including the diversity of excitatory and inhibitory neuronal classes. Significant variability in cellular properties are also seen within a nominal neuronal class and this heterogeneity can be expected to influence the population response and information processing in networks. Recent studies have examined the population and network effects of variability in a particular neuronal parameter with some plausibly chosen distribution. However, the empirical variability and covariance seen across multiple parameters are rarely included, partly due to the lack of data on parameter correlations in forms convenient for model construction. To addess this we quantify the heterogeneity within and between the neocortical pyramidal-cell classes in layers 2/3, 4, and the slender-tufted and thick-tufted pyramidal cells of layer 5 using a combination of intracellular recordings, single-neuron modelling and statistical analyses. From the response to both square-pulse and naturalistic fluctuating stimuli, we examined the class-dependent variance and covariance of electrophysiological parameters and identify the role of the h current in generating parameter correlations. A byproduct of the dynamic I-V method we employed is the straightforward extraction of reduced neuron models from experiment. Empirically these models took the refractory exponential integrate-and-fire form and provide an accurate fit to the perisomatic voltage responses of the diverse pyramidal-cell populations when the class-dependent statistics of the model parameters were respected. By quantifying the parameter statistics we obtained an algorithm which generates populations of model neurons, for each of the four pyramidal-cell classes, that adhere to experimentally observed marginal distributions and parameter correlations. As well as providing this tool, which we hope will be of use for exploring the effects of heterogeneity in neocortical networks, we also provide the code for the dynamic I-V method and make the full electrophysiological data set available.
Categories: Journal Articles