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J Theor Biol. 2009 Dec 21;261(4):511-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2009.07.040. Epub 2009 Aug 6.

Comparing different ODE modelling approaches for gene regulatory networks.

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  • 1Department of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol, Queen's Building, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TR, UK.


A fundamental step in synthetic biology and systems biology is to derive appropriate mathematical models for the purposes of analysis and design. For example, to synthesize a gene regulatory network, the derivation of a mathematical model is important in order to carry out in silico investigations of the network dynamics and to investigate parameter variations and robustness issues. Different mathematical frameworks have been proposed to derive such models. In particular, the use of sets of nonlinear ordinary differential equations (ODEs) has been proposed to model the dynamics of the concentrations of mRNAs and proteins. These models are usually characterized by the presence of highly nonlinear Hill function terms. A typical simplification is to reduce the number of equations by means of a quasi-steady-state assumption on the mRNA concentrations. This yields a class of simplified ODE models. A radically different approach is to replace the Hill functions by piecewise-linear approximations [Casey, R., de Jong, H., Gouze , J.-L., 2006. Piecewise-linear models of genetic regulatory networks: equilibria and their stability. J. Math. Biol. 52 (1), 27-56]. A further modelling approach is the use of discrete-time maps [Coutinho, R., Fernandez, B., Lima, R., Meyroneinc, A., 2006. Discrete time piecewise affine models of genetic regulatory networks. J. Math. Biol. 52, 524-570] where the evolution of the system is modelled in discrete, rather than continuous, time. The aim of this paper is to discuss and compare these different modelling approaches, using a representative gene regulatory network. We will show that different models often lead to conflicting conclusions concerning the existence and stability of equilibria and stable oscillatory behaviours. Moreover, we shall discuss, where possible, the viability of making certain modelling approximations (e.g. quasi-steady-state mRNA dynamics or piecewise-linear approximations of Hill functions) and their effects on the overall system dynamics.

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