A mathematical model for apoptotic switch in Drosophila

Riccardo Ziraldo, Lan Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Apoptosis is an evolutionarily-conserved process of autonomous cell death. The molecular switch mechanism underlying the fate decision of apoptosis in mammalian cells has been intensively studied by mathematical modeling. In contrast, the apoptotic switch in invertebrates, with highly conserved signaling proteins and pathway, remains poorly understood mechanistically and calls for theoretical elucidation. In this study, we develop a mathematical model of the apoptosis pathway in Drosophila and compare the switch mechanism to that in mammals. Enumeration of the elementary reactions for the model demonstrates that the molecular interactions among the signaling components are considerably different from their mammalian counterparts. A notable distinction in network organization is that the direct positive feedback from the effector caspase (EC) to the initiator caspase in mammalian pathway is replaced by a double-negative regulation in Drosophila. The model is calibrated by experimental input-output relationship and the simulated trajectories exhibit all-or-none bimodal behavior. Bifurcation diagrams confirm that the model of Drosophila apoptotic switch possesses bistability, a well-recognized feature for an apoptosis system. Since the apoptotic protease activating factor-1 (APAF1) induced irreversible activation of caspase is an essential and beneficial property for the mammalian apoptotic switch, we perform analysis of the bistable caspase activation with respect to the input of DARK protein, the Drosophila homolog of APAF1. Interestingly, this bistable behavior in Drosophila is predicted to be reversible. Further analysis suggests that the mechanism underlying the systems property of reversibility is the double-negative feedback from the EC to the initiator caspase. Using theoretical modeling, our study proposes plausible evolution of the switch mechanism for apoptosis between organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number056003
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 20 2015


  • Drosophila apoptosis pathway
  • bifurcation
  • bistability
  • mathematical model
  • molecular switch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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