Uncovering the effect of RNA polymerase steric interactions on gene expression noise: Analytical distributions of nascent and mature RNA numbers

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Abstract / Description of output

The telegraph model is the standard model of stochastic gene expression, which can be solved exactly to obtain the distribution of mature RNA numbers per cell. A modification of this model also leads to an analytical distribution of nascent RNA numbers. These solutions are routinely used for the analysis of single-cell data, including the inference of transcriptional parameters. However, these models neglect important mechanistic features of transcription elongation, such as the stochastic movement of RNA polymerases and their steric (excluded-volume) interactions. Here we construct a model of gene expression describing promoter switching between inactive and active states, binding of RNA polymerases in the active state, their stochastic movement including steric interactions along the gene, and their unbinding leading to a mature transcript that subsequently decays. We derive the steady-state distributions of the nascent and mature RNA numbers in two important limiting cases: constitutive expression and slow promoter switching. We show that RNA fluctuations are suppressed by steric interactions between RNA polymerases, and that this suppression can in some instances even lead to sub-Poissonian fluctuations; these effects are most pronounced for nascent RNA and less prominent for mature RNA, since the latter is not a direct sensor of transcription. We find a relationship between the parameters of our microscopic mechanistic model and those of the standard models that ensures excellent consistency in their prediction of the first and second RNA number moments over vast regions of parameter space, encompassing slow, intermediate, and rapid promoter switching, provided the RNA number distributions are Poissonian or super-Poissonian. Furthermore, we identify the limitations of inference from mature RNA data, specifically showing that it cannot differentiate between highly distinct RNA polymerase traffic patterns on a gene.
Original languageEnglish
Article number034405
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2023


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