Generating Effective Models and Parameters for RNA Genetic Circuits

Chelsea Y. Hu, Jeffrey D. Varner, Julius B. Lucks*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


RNA genetic circuitry is emerging as a powerful tool to control gene expression. However, little work has been done to create a theoretical foundation for RNA circuit design. A prerequisite to this is a quantitative modeling framework that accurately describes the dynamics of RNA circuits. In this work, we develop an ordinary differential equation model of transcriptional RNA genetic circuitry, using an RNA cascade as a test case. We show that parameter sensitivity analysis can be used to design a set of four simple experiments that can be performed in parallel using rapid cell-free transcription-translation (TX-TL) reactions to determine the 13 parameters of the model. The resulting model accurately recapitulates the dynamic behavior of the cascade, and can be easily extended to predict the function of new cascade variants that utilize new elements with limited additional characterization experiments. Interestingly, we show that inconsistencies between model predictions and experiments led to the model-guided discovery of a previously unknown maturation step required for RNA regulator function. We also determine circuit parameters in two different batches of TX-TL, and show that batch-to-batch variation can be attributed to differences in parameters that are directly related to the concentrations of core gene expression machinery. We anticipate the RNA circuit models developed here will inform the creation of computer aided genetic circuit design tools that can incorporate the growing number of RNA regulators, and that the parametrization method will find use in determining functional parameters of a broad array of natural and synthetic regulatory systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)914-926
Number of pages13
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 30 2015


  • RNA genetic circuitry
  • TX-TL
  • computer aided design
  • parametrization
  • sensitivity analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering


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