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Open Access Research article

Thermodynamically consistent Bayesian analysis of closed biochemical reaction systems

Garrett Jenkinson1, Xiaogang Zhong2 and John Goutsias1*

Author Affiliations

1 Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA

2 Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:547  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-547

Published: 5 November 2010



Estimating the rate constants of a biochemical reaction system with known stoichiometry from noisy time series measurements of molecular concentrations is an important step for building predictive models of cellular function. Inference techniques currently available in the literature may produce rate constant values that defy necessary constraints imposed by the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. As a result, these techniques may lead to biochemical reaction systems whose concentration dynamics could not possibly occur in nature. Therefore, development of a thermodynamically consistent approach for estimating the rate constants of a biochemical reaction system is highly desirable.


We introduce a Bayesian analysis approach for computing thermodynamically consistent estimates of the rate constants of a closed biochemical reaction system with known stoichiometry given experimental data. Our method employs an appropriately designed prior probability density function that effectively integrates fundamental biophysical and thermodynamic knowledge into the inference problem. Moreover, it takes into account experimental strategies for collecting informative observations of molecular concentrations through perturbations. The proposed method employs a maximization-expectation-maximization algorithm that provides thermodynamically feasible estimates of the rate constant values and computes appropriate measures of estimation accuracy. We demonstrate various aspects of the proposed method on synthetic data obtained by simulating a subset of a well-known model of the EGF/ERK signaling pathway, and examine its robustness under conditions that violate key assumptions. Software, coded in MATLAB®, which implements all Bayesian analysis techniques discussed in this paper, is available free of charge at webcite.


Our approach provides an attractive statistical methodology for estimating thermodynamically feasible values for the rate constants of a biochemical reaction system from noisy time series observations of molecular concentrations obtained through perturbations. The proposed technique is theoretically sound and computationally feasible, but restricted to quantitative data obtained from closed biochemical reaction systems. This necessitates development of similar techniques for estimating the rate constants of open biochemical reaction systems, which are more realistic models of cellular function.