Much of the complexity of biochemical networks comes from the information-processing abilities of allosteric proteins, be they receptors, ion-channels, signalling molecules or transcription factors. An allosteric protein can be uniquely regulated by each combination of input molecules that it binds. This “regulatory complexity” causes a combinatorial increase in the number of parameters required to fit experimental data as the number of protein interactions increases. It therefore challenges the creation, updating, and re-use of biochemical models. Here, we propose a rule-based modelling framework that exploits the intrinsic modularity of protein structure to address regulatory complexity. Rather than treating proteins as “black boxes”, we model their hierarchical structure and, as conformational changes, internal dynamics. By modelling the regulation of allosteric proteins through these conformational changes, we often decrease the number of parameters required to fit data, and so reduce over-fitting and improve the predictive power of a model. Our method is thermodynamically grounded, imposes detailed balance, and also includes molecular cross-talk and the background activity of enzymes. We use our Allosteric Network Compiler to examine how allostery can facilitate macromolecular assembly and how competitive ligands can change the observed cooperativity of an allosteric protein. We also develop a parsimonious model of G protein-coupled receptors that explains functional selectivity and can predict the rank order of potency of agonists acting through a receptor. Our methodology should provide a basis for scalable, modular and executable modelling of biochemical networks in systems and synthetic biology.
The complexity of biochemical networks challenges our ability to create quantitative and predictive models of cellular responses to extracellular changes. In these networks, the regulation of allosteric receptors and proteins by multiple drugs or endogenous ligands introduces “regulatory complexity” because a large number of parameters is required to describe such interactions. Protein interactions also give rise to “combinatorial complexity” by generating large numbers of protein complexes and covalent modification states. To address these twin problems, we propose a modelling framework that combines a modular description of protein structure and function with a rule-based description of protein interactions. We define the input-output function of an allosteric protein through its thermodynamic properties and structural components. We show that our “biomolecule-centric” methodology, in contrast to ad hoc approaches that emphasize the regulatory logic of interactions, can reduce the number of parameters required to model experimental observations. We also demonstrate how the application of our framework gives insights into the assembly of macromolecular complexes and increases the predictive power of a standard model of G protein-coupled receptors. These benefits are possible in many systems, given the ubiquity of allostery in biochemical networks. Our research delineates a fundamental relationship between allostery, modularity, and complexity in biochemical networks.