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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 31;104(31):12663-8. Epub 2007 Jul 24.

Intracellular crowding defines the mode and sequence of substrate uptake by Escherichia coli and constrains its metabolic activity.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, 3550 Terrace Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


The influence of the high intracellular concentration of macromolecules on cell physiology is increasingly appreciated, but its impact on system-level cellular functions remains poorly quantified. To assess its potential effect, here we develop a flux balance model of Escherichia coli cell metabolism that takes into account a systems-level constraint for the concentration of enzymes catalyzing the various metabolic reactions in the crowded cytoplasm. We demonstrate that the model's predictions for the relative maximum growth rate of wild-type and mutant E. coli cells in single substrate-limited media, and the sequence and mode of substrate uptake and utilization from a complex medium are in good agreement with subsequent experimental observations. These results suggest that molecular crowding represents a bound on the achievable functional states of a metabolic network, and they indicate that models incorporating this constraint can systematically identify alterations in cellular metabolism activated in response to environmental change.

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