Protein Logic: A Statistical Mechanical Study of Signal Integration at the Single-Molecule Level
Information processing and decision-making is based upon logic operations, which in cellular networks has been well characterized at the level of transcription. In recent years, however, both experimentalists and theorists have begun to appreciate that cellular decision-making can also be performed at the level of a single protein, giving rise to the notion of protein logic. Here we systematically explore protein logic using a well-known statistical mechanical model. As an example system, we focus on receptors that bind either one or two ligands, and their associated dimers. Notably, we find that a single heterodimer can realize any of the 16 possible logic gates, including the XOR gate, by variation of biochemical parameters. We then introduce what to our knowledge is a novel idea: that a set of receptors with fixed parameters can encode functionally unique logic gates simply by forming different dimeric combinations. An exhaustive search reveals that the simplest set of receptors (two single-ligand receptors and one double-ligand receptor) can realize several different groups of three unique gates, a result for which the parametric analysis of single receptors and dimers provides a clear interpretation. Both results underscore the surprising functional freedom readily available to cells at the single-protein level.