Strategies for representing metabolic pathways within biochemical systems theory: Reversible pathways

Albert Sorribas, Michael A. Savageau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The search for systematic methods to deal with the integrated behavior of complex biochemical systems has over the past two decades led to the proposal of several theories of biochemical systems. Among the most promising is biochemical systems theory (BST). Recent comparisons of this theory with several others that have recently been proposed have demonstrated that all are variants of BST and share a common underlying formalism. Hence, the different variants can be precisely related and ranked according to their completeness and operational utility. The original and most fruitful variant within BST is based on a particular representation, called an S-system (for synergistic and saturable systems), that exhibits many advantages not found among alternative representations. Even within the preferred S-system representation there are options, depending on the method of aggregating fluxes, that become especially apparent when one considers reversible pathways. In this paper we focus on the paradigm situation and clearly distinguish the two most common strategies for generating an S-system representation. The first is called the "reversible" strategy because it involves aggregating incoming fluxes separately from outgoing fluxes for each metabolite to define a net flux that can be positive, negative, or zero. The second is the "irreversible" strategy, which involves aggregating forward and reverse fluxes through each reaction to define a net flux that is always positive. This second strategy has been used almost exclusively in all variants of BST. The principal results of detailed analyses are the following: (1) All S-system representations predict the same changes in dependent concentrations for a given change in an independent concentration. (2) The reversible strategy is superior to the irreversible on the basis of several criteria, including accuracy in predicting steady-state flux, accuracy in predicting transient responses, and robustness of representation. (3) Only the reversible strategy yields a representation that is able to capture the characteristic feature of amphibolic pathways, namely, the reversal of nets flux under physiological conditions. Finally, the results document the wide range of variation over which the S-system representation can accurately predict the behavior of intact biochemical systems and confirm similar results of earlier studies [Voit and Savageau, Biochemistry 26: 6869-6880 (1987)].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-269
Number of pages31
JournalMathematical Biosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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