Core signalling motif displaying multistability through multi-state enzymes

Song Feng, Meritxell Sáez, Carsten Wiuf, Elisenda Feliu, Orkun S. Soyer

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Bistability, and more generally multistability, is a key system dynamics feature enabling decision-making and memory in cells. Deciphering the molecular determinants of multistability is thus crucial for a better understanding of cellular pathways and their (re)engineering in synthetic biology. Here, we show that a key motif found predominantly in eukaryotic signalling systems, namely a futile signalling cycle, can display bistability when featuring a two-state kinase. We provide necessary and sufficient mathematical conditions on the kinetic parameters of this motif that guarantee the existence of multiple steady states. These conditions foster the intuition that bistability arises as a consequence of competition between the two states of the kinase. Extending from this result, we find that increasing the number of kinase states linearly translates into an increase in the number of steady states in the system. These findings reveal, to our knowledge, a new mechanism for the generation of bistability and multistability in cellular signalling systems. Further the futile cycle featuring a two-state kinase is among the smallest bistable signalling motifs. We show that multi-state kinases and the described competition-based motif are part of several natural signalling systems and thereby could enable them to implement complex information processing through multistability. These results indicate that multi-state kinases in signalling systems are readily exploited by natural evolution and could equally be used by synthetic approaches for the generation of multistable information processing systems at the cellular level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160524
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number123
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bistability
  • Competition
  • Futile cycles
  • Signalling networks
  • Synthetic biology


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