Quantifying the Roles of Space and Stochasticity in Computer Simulations for Cell Biology and Cellular Biochemistry

Johnson, Margaret E. and Chen, Athena and Faeder, James R. and Henning, Philipp and Moraru, Ion I. and Meier-Schellersheim, Martin and Murphy, Robert F. and Prüstel, Thorsten and Theriot, Julie A. and Uhrmacher, Adelinde M. (2021) Quantifying the Roles of Space and Stochasticity in Computer Simulations for Cell Biology and Cellular Biochemistry. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 32 (2), pp. 186-210. ISSN 1059-1524.

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Official URL: http://doi.org/10.1091/mbc.E20-08-0530


Most of the fascinating phenomena studied in cell biology emerge from interactions among highly organized multi-molecular structures embedded into complex and frequently dynamic cellular morphologies. For the exploration of such systems, computer simulation has proved to be an invaluable tool, and many researchers in this field have developed sophisticated computational models for application to specific cell biological questions. However, it is often difficult to reconcile conflicting computational results that use different approaches to describe the same phenomenon. To address this issue systematically, we have defined a series of computational test cases ranging from very simple to moderately complex, varying key features of dimensionality, reaction type, reaction speed, crowding, and cell size. We then quantified how explicit spatial and/or stochastic implementations alter outcomes, even when all methods use the same reaction network, rates, and concentrations. For simple cases we generally find minor differences in solutions of the same problem. However, we observe increasing discordance as the effects of localization, dimensionality reduction, and irreversible enzymatic reactions are combined. We discuss the strengths and limitations of commonly used computational approaches for exploring cell biological questions and provide a framework for decision-making by researchers developing new models. As computational power and speed continue to increase at a remarkable rate, the dream of a fully comprehensive computational model of a living cell may be drawing closer to reality, but our analysis demonstrates that it will be crucial to evaluate the accuracy of such models critically and systematically.

Item Type: Article
Projects: LaCE