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Progress through the division cycle of present day eukaryotic cells is controlled by a complex network consisting of (i) cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) and their associated cyclins, (ii) kinases and phosphatases that regulate CDK activity, and (iii) stoichiometric inhibitors that sequester cyclin-CDK dimers. Presumably regulation of cell division in the earliest ancestors of eukaryotes was a considerably simpler affair. Nasmyth (1995) recently proposed a mechanism for control of a putative, primordial, eukaryotic cell cycle, based on antagonistic interactions between a cyclin-CDK and the anaphase promoting complex (APC) that labels the cyclin subunit for proteolysis. We recast this idea in mathematical form and show that the model exhibits hysteretic behaviour between alternative steady states: a Gl-like state (APC on, CDK activity low, DNA unreplicated and replication complexes assembled) and an S/M-like state (APC off, CDK activity high, DNA replicated and replication complexes disassembled). In our model, the transition from G1 to S/M ('Start') is driven by cell growth, and the reverse transition ('Finish') is driven by completion of DNA synthesis and proper alignment of chromosomes on the metaphase plate. This simple and effective mechanism for coupling growth and division and for accurately copying and partitioning a genome consisting of numerous chromosomes, each with multiple origins of replication, could represent the core of the eukaryotic cell cycle. Furthermore, we show how other controls could be added to this core and speculate on the reasons why stoichiometric inhibitors and CDK inhibitory phosphorylation might have been appended to the primitive alternation between cyclin accumulation and degradation.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





2063 - 2076


Animals, Biological Evolution, Cell Cycle, Cyclin-Dependent Kinases, Cyclins, DNA Replication, Eukaryotic Cells, Models, Biological, Phosphorylation