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IET Syst Biol. 2012 Aug;6(4):102-15. doi: 10.1049/iet-syb.2011.0038.

Linear noise approximation is valid over limited times for any chemical system that is sufficiently large.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


The linear noise approximation (LNA) is a way of approximating the stochastic time evolution of a well-stirred chemically reacting system. It can be obtained either as the lowest order correction to the deterministic chemical reaction rate equation (RRE) in van Kampen's system-size expansion of the chemical master equation (CME), or by linearising the two-term-truncated chemical Kramers-Moyal equation. However, neither of those derivations sheds much light on the validity of the LNA. The problematic character of the system-size expansion of the CME for some chemical systems, the arbitrariness of truncating the chemical Kramers-Moyal equation at two terms, and the sometimes poor agreement of the LNA with the solution of the CME, have all raised concerns about the validity and usefulness of the LNA. Here, the authors argue that these concerns can be resolved by viewing the LNA as an approximation of the chemical Langevin equation (CLE). This view is already implicit in Gardiner's derivation of the LNA from the truncated Kramers-Moyal equation, as that equation is mathematically equivalent to the CLE. However, the CLE can be more convincingly derived in a way that does not involve either the truncated Kramers-Moyal equation or the system-size expansion. This derivation shows that the CLE will be valid, at least for a limited span of time, for any system that is sufficiently close to the thermodynamic (large-system) limit. The relatively easy derivation of the LNA from the CLE shows that the LNA shares the CLE's conditions of validity, and it also suggests that what the LNA really gives us is a description of the initial departure of the CLE from the RRE as we back away from the thermodynamic limit to a large but finite system. The authors show that this approach to the LNA simplifies its derivation, clarifies its limitations, and affords an easier path to its solution.

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