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Changes in gene expression shift and switch genetic interactions

By Xianghua Li, Jasna Lalic, Pablo Baeza-Centurion, Riddhiman Dhar, Ben Lehner

Posted 14 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/578419

An important goal in disease genetics and evolutionary biology is to understand how mutations combine to alter phenotypes and fitness. Non-additive interactions between mutations occur extensively and change across conditions, cell types, and species, making genetic prediction a difficult challenge. To understand the reasons for this, we reduced the problem to a minimal system where we combined mutations in a single protein performing a single function (a transcriptional repressor inhibiting a target gene). Even in this minimal system, a change in gene expression altered both the strength and type of genetic interactions. These seemingly complicated changes could, however, be predicted by a mathematical model that propagates the effects of mutations on protein folding to the cellular phenotype. We show that similar changes will be observed for many genes. These results provide fundamental insights into genotype-phenotype maps and illustrate how changes in genetic interactions can be predicted using hierarchical mechanistic models.

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