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microRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that are important post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression. miRNAs can induce thresholds in protein synthesis. Such thresholds in protein output can be also achieved by oligomerization of transcription factors (TF) for the control of gene expression. First, we propose a minimal model for protein expression regulated by miRNA and by oligomerization of TF. We show that miRNA and oligomerization of TF generate a buffer, which increases the robustness of protein output towards molecular noise as well as towards random variation of kinetics parameters. Next, we extend the model by considering that the same miRNA can bind to multiple messenger RNAs, which accounts for the dynamics of a minimal competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs) network. The model shows that, through common miRNA regulation, TF can control the expression of all proteins formed by the ceRNA network, even if it drives the expression of only one gene in the network. The model further suggests that the threshold in protein synthesis mediated by the oligomerization of TF can be propagated to the other genes, which can increase the robustness of the expression of all genes in such ceRNA network. Furthermore, we show that a miRNA could increase the time delay of a "Goodwin-like" oscillator model, which may favor the occurrence of oscillations of large amplitude. This result predicts important roles of miRNAs in the control of the molecular mechanisms leading to the emergence of biological rhythms. Moreover, a model for the latter oscillator embedded in a ceRNA network indicates that the oscillatory behavior can be propagated, via the shared miRNA, to all proteins formed by such ceRNA network. Thus, by means of computational models, we show that miRNAs could act as vectors allowing the propagation of robustness in protein synthesis as well as oscillatory behaviors within ceRNA networks.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Cells, Gene Expression Regulation, Gene Regulatory Networks, MicroRNAs, Models, Biological, Protein Biosynthesis, Protein Multimerization, Protein Structure, Quaternary, Proteins, Transcription Factors