Christopher Johnstone

Supercoiling-mediated feedback rapidly couples and tunes transcription

Cell Reports, 2022


Transcription induces a wave of DNA supercoiling, altering the binding affinity of RNA polymerases and reshaping the biochemical landscape of gene regulation. As supercoiling rapidly diffuses, transcription dynamically reshapes the regulation of proximal genes, forming a complex feedback loop. However, a theoretical framework is needed to integrate biophysical regulation with biochemical transcriptional regulation. To investigate the role of supercoiling-mediated feedback within multi-gene systems, we model transcriptional regulation under the influence of supercoiling-mediated polymerase dynamics, allowing us to identify patterns of expression that result from physical inter-gene coupling. We find that gene syntax—the relative ordering and orientation of genes—defines the expression profiles, variance, burst dynamics, and intergene correlation of two-gene systems. Furthermore, supercoiling can enhance or weaken biochemical regulation. Our results suggest that supercoiling couples behavior between neighboring genes, providing a regulatory mechanism that tunes transcriptional variance in engineered gene networks and explains the behavior of co-localized native circuits.