In recent times, stochastic treatments of gene regulatory processes have appeared in the literature in which a cell exposed to a signaling molecule in its environment triggers the synthesis of a specific protein through a network of intracellular reactions. The stochastic nature of this process leads to a distribution of protein levels in a population of cells as determined by a Fokker-Planck equation. Often instability occurs as a consequence of two (stable) steady state protein levels, one at the low end representing the “off” state, and the other at the high end representing the “on” state for a given concentration of the signaling molecule within a suitable range. A consequence of such bistability has been the appearance of bimodal distributions indicating two different populations, one in the “off” state and the other in the “on” state. The bimodal distribution can come about from stochastic analysis of a single cell. However, the concerted action of the population altering the extracellular concentration in the environment of individual cells and hence their behavior can only be accomplished by an appropriate population balance model which accounts for the reciprocal effects of interaction between the population and its environment. In this study, we show how to formulate a population balance model in which stochastic gene expression in individual cells is incorporated. Interestingly, the simulation of the model shows that bistability is neither sufficient nor necessary for bimodal distributions in a population. The original notion of linking bistability with bimodal distribution from single cell stochastic model is therefore only a special consequence of a population balance model.


This is the publisher pdf of Shu C-C, Chatterjee A, Dunny G, Hu W-S, Ramkrishna D (2011) Bistability versus Bimodal Distributions in Gene Regulatory Processes from Population Balance. PLoS Comput Biol 7(8): e1002140 and is available at: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002140.

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