Nature 455, 485-490 (25 September 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07292; Received 15 May 2008; Accepted 18 July 2008

Frequency-modulated nuclear localization bursts coordinate gene regulation

Long Cai1,2, Chiraj K. Dalal1,2 & Michael B. Elowitz1

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Division of Biology and Department of Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology, M/C 114-96, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  2. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Michael B. Elowitz1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.B.E. (Email:


In yeast, the transcription factor Crz1 is dephosphorylated and translocates into the nucleus in response to extracellular calcium. Here we show, using time-lapse microscopy, that Crz1 exhibits short bursts of nuclear localization (typically lasting 2 min) that occur stochastically in individual cells and propagate to the expression of downstream genes. Strikingly, calcium concentration controls the frequency, but not the duration, of localization bursts. Using an analytic model, we also show that this frequency modulation of bursts ensures proportional expression of multiple target genes across a wide dynamic range of expression levels, independent of promoter characteristics. We experimentally confirm this theory with natural and synthetic Crz1 target promoters. Another stress-response transcription factor, Msn2, exhibits similar, but largely uncorrelated, localization bursts under calcium stress suggesting that frequency-modulation regulation of localization bursts may be a general control strategy used by the cell to coordinate multi-gene responses to external signals.


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