Bifurcation and singularity analysis of a molecular network for the induction of long-term memory.
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Withdrawal reflexes of the mollusk Aplysia exhibit sensitization, a simple form of long-term memory (LTM). Sensitization is due, in part, to long-term facilitation (LTF) of sensorimotor neuron synapses. LTF is induced by the modulatory actions of serotonin (5-HT). Pettigrew et al. developed a computational model of the nonlinear intracellular signaling and gene network that underlies the induction of 5-HT-induced LTF. The model simulated empirical observations that repeated applications of 5-HT induce persistent activation of protein kinase A (PKA) and that this persistent activation requires a suprathreshold exposure of 5-HT. This study extends the analysis of the Pettigrew model by applying bifurcation analysis, singularity theory, and numerical simulation. Using singularity theory, classification diagrams of parameter space were constructed, identifying regions with qualitatively different steady-state behaviors. The graphical representation of these regions illustrates the robustness of these regions to changes in model parameters. Because persistent protein kinase A (PKA) activity correlates with Aplysia LTM, the analysis focuses on a positive feedback loop in the model that tends to maintain PKA activity. In this loop, PKA phosphorylates a transcription factor (TF-1), thereby increasing the expression of an ubiquitin hydrolase (Ap-Uch). Ap-Uch then acts to increase PKA activity, closing the loop. This positive feedback loop manifests multiple, coexisting steady states, or multiplicity, which provides a mechanism for a bistable switch in PKA activity. After the removal of 5-HT, the PKA activity either returns to its basal level (reversible switch) or remains at a high level (irreversible switch). Such an irreversible switch might be a mechanism that contributes to the persistence of LTM. The classification diagrams also identify parameters and processes that might be manipulated, perhaps pharmacologically, to enhance the induction of memory. Rational drug design, to affect complex processes such as memory formation, can benefit from this type of analysis.