Symmetry breaking, a central principle of physics, has been hailed as the driver of self-organization in biological systems in general and biogenesis of cellular organelles in particular, but the molecular mechanisms of symmetry breaking only begin to become understood. Centrioles, the structural cores of centrosomes and cilia, must duplicate every cell cycle to ensure their faithful inheritance through cellular divisions. Work in model organisms identified conserved proteins required for centriole duplication and found that altering their abundance affects centriole number. However, the biophysical principles that ensure that, under physiological conditions, only a single procentriole is produced on each mother centriole remain enigmatic. Here we propose a mechanistic biophysical model for the initiation of procentriole formation in mammalian cells. We posit that interactions between the master regulatory kinase PLK4 and its activator-substrate STIL form the basis of the procentriole initiation network. The model faithfully recapitulates the experimentally observed transition from PLK4 uniformly distributed around the mother centriole, the “ring”, to a unique PLK4 focus, the “spot”, that triggers the assembly of a new procentriole. This symmetry breaking requires a dual positive feedback based on autocatalytic activation of PLK4 and enhanced centriolar anchoring of PLK4-STIL complexes by phosphorylated STIL. We find that, contrary to previous proposals, in situ degradation of active PLK4 is insufficient to break symmetry. Instead, the model predicts that competition between transient PLK4 activity maxima for PLK4-STIL complexes explains both the instability of the PLK4 ring and formation of the unique PLK4 spot. In the model, strong competition at physiologically normal parameters robustly produces a single procentriole, while increasing overexpression of PLK4 and STIL weakens the competition and causes progressive addition of procentrioles in agreement with experimental observations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)