Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparison between elementary flux modes analysis and 13C-metabolic fluxes measured in bacterial and plant cells

Marie Beurton-Aimar1, Bertrand Beauvoit2, Antoine Monier2, François Vallée1, Martine Dieuaide-Noubhani2 and Sophie Colombié2*

Author Affiliations

1 LaBRI, Univ. Bordeaux, UMR 5800. 351, cours de la Libération. F-33405 Talence Cedex, France

2 INRA Bordeaux, Univ. Bordeaux. UMR 1332 - Fruit Biology and Pathology BP 81. 71 Avenue Edouard Bourlaux. F-33140 Villenave d'Ornon, France

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BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:95  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-5-95

Published: 20 June 2011



13C metabolic flux analysis is one of the pertinent ways to compare two or more physiological states. From a more theoretical standpoint, the structural properties of metabolic networks can be analysed to explore feasible metabolic behaviours and to define the boundaries of steady state flux distributions. Elementary flux mode analysis is one of the most efficient methods for performing this analysis. In this context, recent approaches have tended to compare experimental flux measurements with topological network analysis.


Metabolic networks describing the main pathways of central carbon metabolism were set up for a bacteria species (Corynebacterium glutamicum) and a plant species (Brassica napus) for which experimental flux maps were available. The structural properties of each network were then studied using the concept of elementary flux modes. To do this, coefficients of flux efficiency were calculated for each reaction within the networks by using selected sets of elementary flux modes. Then the relative differences - reflecting the change of substrate i.e. a sugar source for C. glutamicum and a nitrogen source for B. napus - of both flux efficiency and flux measured experimentally were compared. For both organisms, there is a clear relationship between these parameters, thus indicating that the network structure described by the elementary flux modes had captured a significant part of the metabolic activity in both biological systems. In B. napus, the extension of the elementary flux mode analysis to an enlarged metabolic network still resulted in a clear relationship between the change in the coefficients and that of the measured fluxes. Nevertheless, the limitations of the method to fit some particular fluxes are discussed.


This consistency between EFM analysis and experimental flux measurements, validated on two metabolic systems allows us to conclude that elementary flux mode analysis could be a useful tool to complement 13C metabolic flux analysis, by allowing the prediction of changes in internal fluxes before carbon labelling experiments.