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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30131. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030131. Epub 2012 Jan 17.

Three-dimensional stochastic off-lattice model of binding chemistry in crowded environments.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences and Lane Center for Computational Biology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


Molecular crowding is one of the characteristic features of the intracellular environment, defined by a dense mixture of varying kinds of proteins and other molecules. Interaction with these molecules significantly alters the rates and equilibria of chemical reactions in the crowded environment. Numerous fundamental activities of a living cell are strongly influenced by the crowding effect, such as protein folding, protein assembly and disassembly, enzyme activity, and signal transduction. Quantitatively predicting how crowding will affect any particular process is, however, a very challenging problem because many physical and chemical parameters act synergistically in ways that defy easy analysis. To build a more realistic model for this problem, we extend a prior stochastic off-lattice model from two-dimensional (2D) to three-dimensional (3D) space and examine how the 3D results compare to those found in 2D. We show that both models exhibit qualitatively similar crowding effects and similar parameter dependence, particularly with respect to a set of parameters previously shown to act linearly on total reaction equilibrium. There are quantitative differences between 2D and 3D models, although with a generally gradual nonlinear interpolation as a system is extended from 2D to 3D. However, the additional freedom of movement allowed to particles as thickness of the simulation box increases can produce significant quantitative change as a system moves from 2D to 3D. Simulation results over broader parameter ranges further show that the impact of molecular crowding is highly dependent on the specific reaction system examined.

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