Cinquin Lab

Positive and negative feedback: striking a balance between necessary antagonists

Cinquin O., Demongeot J., J. Theor. Biol. 216(2), pp229-241 (2002)


Most biological regulation systems comprise feedback circuits as crucial components. Negative feedback circuits have been well understood for a very long time; indeed, their understanding has been the basis for the engineering of cybernetic machines exhibiting stable behaviour. The importance of positive feedback circuits, considered as “vicious circles”, has however been underestimated. In this article we give a demonstration based on degree theory for vector fields of the conjecture, made by Rene Thomas, that the presence of positive feedback circuits is a necessary condition for autonomous differential systems, covering a wide class of biologically relevant systems, to possess multiple steady states. We also show ways to derive constraints on the weights of positive and negative feedback circuits. These qualitative and quantitative results provide respectively structural constraints (i.e. related to the interaction graph) and numerical constraints (i.e. related to the magnitudes of the interactions) on systems exhibiting complex behaviours, and should make it easier to reverse-engineer the interaction networks animating those systems on the basis of partial, sometimes unreliable, experimental data. We illustrate these concepts on a model multistable switch, in the context of cellular differentiation, showing a requirement for sufficient cooperativity. Further developments are expected in the discovery and modelling of regulatory networks in general, and in the interpretation of bio-array hybridisation and proteomics experiments in particular. Keywords: positive feedback, multistationarity, multistability, stability, regulation, interaction networks, switch, cellular differentiation