A Conceptual Mathematical Model of the Dynamic Self-Organisation of Distinct Cellular Organelles

Formation, degradation and renewal of cellular organelles is a dynamic process based on permanent budding, fusion and inter-organelle traffic of vesicles. These processes include many regulatory proteins such as SNAREs, Rabs and coats. Given this complex machinery, a controversially debated issue is the definition of a minimal set of generic mechanisms necessary to enable the self-organization of organelles differing in number, size and chemical composition. We present a conceptual mathematical model of dynamic organelle formation based on interacting vesicles which carry different types of fusogenic proteins (FP) playing the role of characteristic marker proteins. Our simulations (ODEs) show that a de novo formation of non-identical organelles, each accumulating a different type of FP, requires a certain degree of disproportionation of FPs during budding. More importantly however, the fusion kinetics must indispensably exhibit positive cooperativity among these FPs, particularly for the formation of larger organelles. We compared different types of cooperativity: sequential alignment of corresponding FPs on opposite vesicle/organelles during fusion and pre-formation of FP-aggregates (equivalent, e.g., to SNARE clusters) prior to fusion described by Hill kinetics. This showed that the average organelle size in the system is much more sensitive to the disproportionation strength of FPs during budding if the vesicular transport system gets along with a fusion mechanism based on sequential alignments of FPs. Therefore, pre-formation of FP aggregates within the membranes prior to fusion introduce robustness with respect to organelle size. Our findings provide a plausible explanation for the evolution of a relatively large number of molecules to confer specificity on the fusion machinery compared to the relatively small number involved in the budding process. Moreover, we could speculate that a specific cooperativity which may be described by Hill kinetics (aggregates or Rab/SNARE complex formation) is suitable if maturation/identity switching of organelles play a role (bistability).