Species differential regulation of COX2 can be described by an NFκB-dependent logic AND gate

Lan K. Nguyen, Miguel A.S. Cavadas, Boris N. Kholodenko, Till D. Frank, Alex Cheong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2), a key regulatory enzyme of the prostaglandin/eicosanoid pathway, is an important target for anti-inflammatory therapy. It is highly induced by pro-inflammatory cytokines in a Nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB)-dependent manner. However, the mechanisms determining the amplitude and dynamics of this important pro-inflammatory event are poorly understood. Furthermore, there is significant difference between human and mouse COX2 expression in response to the inflammatory stimulus tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα). Here, we report the presence of a molecular logic AND gate composed of two NFκB response elements (NREs) which controls the expression of human COX2 in a switch-like manner. Combining quantitative kinetic modeling and thermostatistical analysis followed by experimental validation in iterative cycles, we show that the human COX2 expression machinery regulated by NFκB displays features of a logic AND gate. We propose that this provides a digital, noise-filtering mechanism for a tighter control of expression in response to TNFα, such that a threshold level of NFκB activation is required before the promoter becomes active and initiates transcription. This NFκB-regulated AND gate is absent in the mouse COX2 promoter, most likely contributing to its differential graded response in promoter activity and protein expression to TNFα. Our data suggest that the NFκB-regulated AND gate acts as a novel mechanism for controlling the expression of human COX2 to TNFα, and its absence in the mouse COX2 provides the foundation for further studies on understanding species-specific differential gene regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2431-2443
Number of pages13
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00018-015-1850-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Funding: none


  • COX2
  • Kinetic modeling
  • Logic AND gate
  • NFκB signaling
  • Switch-like gene regulation


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