Gene expression within cells is known to fluctuate stochastically in time. However, the origins of gene expression noise remain incompletely understood. The bacterial cell cycle has been suggested as one source, involving chromosome replication, exponential volume growth, and various other changes in cellular composition. Elucidating how these factors give rise to expression variations is important to models of cellular homeostasis, fidelity of signal transmission, and cell-fate decisions.
RESULTS: Using single-cell time-lapse microscopy, we measured cellular growth as well as fluctuations in the expression rate of a fluorescent protein and its concentration. We found that, within the population, the mean expression rate doubles throughout the cell cycle with a characteristic cell cycle phase dependent shape which is different for slow and fast growth rates. At low growth rate, we find the mean expression rate was initially flat, and then rose approximately linearly by a factor two until the end of the cell cycle. The mean concentration fluctuated at low amplitude with sinusoidal-like dependence on cell cycle phase. Traces of individual cells were consistent with a sudden two-fold increase in expression rate, together with other non-cell cycle noise. A model was used to relate the findings and to explain the cell cycle-induced variations for different chromosomal positions.
CONCLUSIONS: We found that the bacterial cell cycle contribution to expression noise consists of two parts: a deterministic oscillation in synchrony with the cell cycle and a stochastic component caused by variable timing of gene replication. Together, they cause half of the expression rate noise. Concentration fluctuations are partially suppressed by a noise cancelling mechanism that involves the exponential growth of cellular volume. A model explains how the functional form of the concentration oscillations depends on chromosome position.

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BMC Biol.

Walker, N., Nghe, P., & Tans, S. (2016). Generation and filtering of gene expression noise by the bacterial cell cycle. BMC Biol., 14(Article number: 11), 1–20 (incl. supporting material). doi:10.1186/s12915-016-0231-z