Using mass measurements in tracer studies--a systematic approach to efficient modeling

Metabolism. 2008 Aug;57(8):1078-87. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.03.011.


Tracer enrichment data are fitted by multicompartmental models to estimate rate constants and fluxes or transport rates. In apolipoprotein turnover studies, mass measurements are also available, for example, apolipoprotein B levels in very low-density lipoprotein, intermediate-density lipoprotein, and low-density lipoprotein, and are often essential to calculate some of the rate constants. The usual method to use mass measurements is to estimate pool masses along with rate constants. A systematic alternative approach is developed to use flux balances around pools to express some rate constants in terms of the other rate constants and the measured masses. The resulting reduction in the number of parameters to be estimated makes the modeling more efficient. In models that would be unidentifiable without mass measurements, the usual approach and the proposed approach yield identical results. In a simple two-pool model, the number of unknown parameters is reduced from 4 to 2. In a published five-pool model for apolipoprotein B kinetics with three mass measurements, the number of parameters is reduced from 12 to 9. With m mass measurements, the number of responses to be fitted and the number of parameters to be estimated are each reduced by m, a simplification by 1/4 to 1/3 in a typical pool model. Besides a proportionate reduction in computational effort, there is a further benefit because the dimensionality of the problem is also decreased significantly, which means ease of convergence and a smaller likelihood of suboptimal solutions. Although our approach is conceptually straightforward, the dependencies get considerably more complex with increasing model size. To generate dependency definitions automatically, a Web-accessible program is available at

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Apolipoproteins B / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism*
  • Lipoproteins, IDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL / metabolism
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Models, Biological*
  • Radioactive Tracers*


  • Apolipoproteins B
  • Lipoproteins
  • Lipoproteins, IDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL
  • Radioactive Tracers