Wednesday, Nov 23, 2016
Current Biology

Two Bistable Switches Govern M Phase Entry

Satoru Mochida, Scott Rata, Hirotsugu Hino, Takeharu Nagai, Bela Novak

The abrupt and irreversible transition from interphase to M phase is essential to separate DNA replication from chromosome segregation. This transition requires the switch-like phosphorylation of hundreds of proteins by the cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1):cyclin B (CycB) complex. Previous studies have ascribed these switch-like phosphorylations to the auto-activation of Cdk1:CycB through the removal of inhibitory phosphorylations on Cdk1-Tyr15 [1 and 2]. The positive feedback in Cdk1 activation creates a bistable switch that makes mitotic commitment irreversible [2, 3 and 4]. Here, we surprisingly find that Cdk1 auto-activation is dispensable for irreversible, switch-like mitotic entry due to a second mechanism, whereby Cdk1:CycB inhibits its counteracting phosphatase (PP2A:B55). We show that the PP2A:B55-inhibiting Greatwall (Gwl)-endosulfine (ENSA) pathway is both necessary and sufficient for switch-like phosphorylations of mitotic substrates. Using purified components of the Gwl-ENSA pathway in a reconstituted system, we found a sharp Cdk1 threshold for phosphorylation of a luminescent mitotic substrate. The Cdk1 threshold to induce mitotic phosphorylation is distinctly higher than the Cdk1 threshold required to maintain these phosphorylations—evidence for bistability. A combination of mathematical modeling and biochemical reconstitution show that the bistable behavior of the Gwl-ENSA pathway emerges from its mutual antagonism with PP2A:B55. Our results demonstrate that two interlinked bistable mechanisms provide a robust solution for irreversible and switch-like mitotic entry.