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Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

Parameter estimation in systems biology models using spline approximation

Choujun Zhan and Lam F Yeung

Author Affiliations

Department of Electronic Engineering, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, PR China

BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-14

Published: 24 January 2011



Mathematical models for revealing the dynamics and interactions properties of biological systems play an important role in computational systems biology. The inference of model parameter values from time-course data can be considered as a "reverse engineering" process and is still one of the most challenging tasks. Many parameter estimation methods have been developed but none of these methods is effective for all cases and can overwhelm all other approaches. Instead, various methods have their advantages and disadvantages. It is worth to develop parameter estimation methods which are robust against noise, efficient in computation and flexible enough to meet different constraints.


Two parameter estimation methods of combining spline theory with Linear Programming (LP) and Nonlinear Programming (NLP) are developed. These methods remove the need for ODE solvers during the identification process. Our analysis shows that the augmented cost function surfaces used in the two proposed methods are smoother; which can ease the optima searching process and hence enhance the robustness and speed of the search algorithm. Moreover, the cores of our algorithms are LP and NLP based, which are flexible and consequently additional constraints can be embedded/removed easily. Eight system biology models are used for testing the proposed approaches. Our results confirm that the proposed methods are both efficient and robust.


The proposed approaches have general application to identify unknown parameter values of a wide range of systems biology models.