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Nat Commun. 2012 Apr 10;3:779. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1775.

Discreteness-induced concentration inversion in mesoscopic chemical systems.

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MOSAIC Group, Institute of Theoretical Computer Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Molecular discreteness is apparent in small-volume chemical systems, such as biological cells, leading to stochastic kinetics. Here we present a theoretical framework to understand the effects of discreteness on the steady state of a monostable chemical reaction network. We consider independent realizations of the same chemical system in compartments of different volumes. Rate equations ignore molecular discreteness and predict the same average steady-state concentrations in all compartments. However, our theory predicts that the average steady state of the system varies with volume: if a species is more abundant than another for large volumes, then the reverse occurs for volumes below a critical value, leading to a concentration inversion effect. The addition of extrinsic noise increases the size of the critical volume. We theoretically predict the critical volumes and verify, by exact stochastic simulations, that rate equations are qualitatively incorrect in sub-critical volumes.

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