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Genes at work in random bouts

Stochastically discontinuous gene activity makes cell cycle duration and cell fate decisions variable, thus providing for stem cells plasticity



Cell interdivision periods (IDP) in homogenous cell populations vary stochastically. Another aspect of probabilistic cell behavior is randomness in cell differentiation. These features are suggested to result from competing stochastic events of assembly/disassembly of the transcription pre-initiation complex (PIC) at gene promoters. The time needed to assemble a proper PIC from different proteins, which must be numerous enough to make their combination gene specific, may be comparable to the IDP. Nascent mRNA visualization at defined genes and inferences from protein level fluctuations in single cells suggest that some genes do operate in this way. The onset of mRNA production by such genes may miss the time windows provided by the cell cycle, resulting in cells differentiating into those in which the respective mRNAs are either present or absent. This creates a way to generate cell phenotype diversity in multicellular organisms.