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This content will become publicly available on January 3, 2024

Title: Minimal frustration underlies the usefulness of incomplete regulatory network models in biology
Regulatory networks as large and complex as those implicated in cell-fate choice are expected to exhibit intricate, very high-dimensional dynamics. Cell-fate choice, however, is a macroscopically simple process. Additionally, regulatory network models are almost always incomplete and/or inexact, and do not incorporate all the regulators and interactions that may be involved in cell-fate regulation. In spite of these issues, regulatory network models have proven to be incredibly effective tools for understanding cell-fate choice across contexts and for making useful predictions. Here, we show that minimal frustration—a feature of biological networks across contexts but not of random networks—can compel simple, low-dimensional steady-state behavior even in large and complex networks. Moreover, the steady-state behavior of minimally frustrated networks can be recapitulated by simpler networks such as those lacking many of the nodes and edges and those that treat multiple regulators as one. The present study provides a theoretical explanation for the success of network models in biology and for the challenges in network inference.
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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National Science Foundation
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  1. INTRODUCTION Neurons are by far the most diverse of all cell types in animals, to the extent that “cell types” in mammalian brains are still mostly heterogeneous groups, and there is no consensus definition of the term. The Drosophila optic lobes, with approximately 200 well-defined cell types, provides a tractable system with which to address the genetic basis of neuronal type diversity. We previously characterized the distinct developmental gene expression program of each of these types using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), with one-to-one correspondence to the known morphological types. RATIONALE The identity of fly neurons is determined by temporal and spatial patterning mechanisms in stem cell progenitors, but it remained unclear how these cell fate decisions are implemented and maintained in postmitotic neurons. It was proposed in Caenorhabditis elegans that unique combinations of terminal selector transcription factors (TFs) that are continuously expressed in each neuron control nearly all of its type-specific gene expression. This model implies that it should be possible to engineer predictable and complete switches of identity between different neurons just by modifying these sustained TFs. We aimed to test this prediction in the Drosophila visual system. RESULTS Here, we used our developmental scRNA-seq atlases to identify themore »potential terminal selector genes in all optic lobe neurons. We found unique combinations of, on average, 10 differentially expressed and stably maintained (across all stages of development) TFs in each neuron. Through genetic gain- and loss-of-function experiments in postmitotic neurons, we showed that modifications of these selector codes are sufficient to induce predictable switches of identity between various cell types. 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We also show that Drgx expression in Tm1 neurons is regulated by Klumpfuss, a TF expressed in stem cells that instructs this fate in progenitors, establishing a link between the regulatory programs that specify neuronal fates and those that implement them. We identified an intronic enhancer in the Drgx locus whose chromatin is specifically accessible in Tm1 neurons and in which Klu motifs are enriched. Genomic deletion of this region knocked down Drgx expression specifically in Tm1 neurons, leaving it intact in the other cell types that normally express it. We further validated this concept by demonstrating that ectopic expression of Vsx (visual system homeobox) genes in Mi15 neurons not only converts them morphologically to Dm2 neurons, but also leads to the loss of their aminergic identity. Our results suggest that selector combinations can be further sculpted by receptor tyrosine kinase signaling after neurogenesis, providing a potential mechanism for postmitotic plasticity of neuronal fates. Finally, we combined our transcriptomic datasets with previously generated chromatin accessibility datasets to understand the mechanisms that control brain wiring downstream of terminal selectors. We built predictive computational models of gene regulatory networks using the Inferelator framework. Experimental validations of these networks revealed how selectors interact with ecdysone-responsive TFs to activate a large and specific repertoire of cell surface proteins and other effectors in each neuron at the onset of synapse formation. We showed that these network models can be used to identify downstream effectors that mediate specific cellular decisions during circuit formation. For instance, reduced levels of cut expression in Tm2 neurons, because of its negative regulation by pdm3 , controls the synaptic layer targeting of their axons. Knockdown of cut in Tm1 neurons is sufficient to redirect their axons to the Tm2 layer in the lobula neuropil without affecting other morphological features. CONCLUSION Our results support a model in which neuronal type identity is primarily determined by a relatively simple code of continuously expressed terminal selector TFs in each cell type throughout development. Our results provide a unified framework of how specific fates are initiated and maintained in postmitotic neurons and open new avenues to understanding synaptic specificity through gene regulatory networks. The conservation of this regulatory logic in both C. elegans and Drosophila makes it likely that the terminal selector concept will also be useful in understanding and manipulating the neuronal diversity of mammalian brains. Terminal selectors enable predictive cell fate reprogramming. Tm1, Tm2, Tm4, and Tm6 neurons of the Drosophila visual system share a core set of TFs continuously expressed by each cell type (simplified). The default Tm4 fate is overridden by the expression of a single additional terminal selector to generate Tm1 ( Drgx ), Tm2 ( pdm3 ), or Tm6 ( SoxN ) fates.« less
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  3. Abstract

    Understanding the basis of behavior requires dissecting the complex waves of gene expression that underlie how the brain processes stimuli and produces an appropriate response. In order to determine the dynamic nature of the neurogenomic network underlying mate choice, we use transcriptome sequencing to capture the female neurogenomic response in two brain regions involved in sensory processing and decision‐making under different mating and social contexts. We use differential coexpression (DC) analysis to evaluate how gene networks in the brain are rewired when a female evaluates attractive and nonattractive males, greatly extending current single‐gene approaches to assess changes in the broader gene regulatory network. We find the brain experiences a remarkable amount of network rewiring in the different mating and social contexts we tested. Further analysis indicates the network differences across contexts are associated with behaviorally relevant functions and pathways, particularly learning, memory and other cognitive functions. Finally, we identify the loci that display social context‐dependent connections, revealing the basis of how relevant neurological and metabolic pathways are differentially recruited in distinct social contexts. More broadly, our findings contribute to our understanding of the genetics of mating and social behavior by identifying gene drivers behind behavioral neural processes, illustrating themore »utility of DC analysis in neurosciences and behavior.

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  4. Abstract

    Cell fate decisions emerge as a consequence of a complex set of gene regulatory networks. Models of these networks are known to have more parameters than data can determine. Recent work, inspired by Waddington's metaphor of a landscape, has instead tried to understand the geometry of gene regulatory networks. Here, we describe recent results on the appropriate mathematical framework for constructing these landscapes. This allows the construction of minimally parameterized models consistent with cell behavior. We review existing examples where geometrical models have been used to fit experimental data on cell fate and describe how spatial interactions between cells can be understood geometrically.

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