The control of the controller: molecular mechanisms for robust perfect adaptation and temperature compensation

Biophys J. 2009 Sep 2;97(5):1244-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.06.030.


Organisms have the property to adapt to a changing environment and keep certain components within a cell regulated at the same level (homeostasis). "Perfect adaptation" describes an organism's response to an external stepwise perturbation by regulating some of its variables/components precisely to their original preperturbation values. Numerous examples of perfect adaptation/homeostasis have been found, as for example, in bacterial chemotaxis, photoreceptor responses, MAP kinase activities, or in metal-ion homeostasis. Two concepts have evolved to explain how perfect adaptation may be understood: In one approach (robust perfect adaptation), the adaptation is a network property, which is mostly, but not entirely, independent of rate constant values; in the other approach (nonrobust perfect adaptation), a fine-tuning of rate constant values is needed. Here we identify two classes of robust molecular homeostatic mechanisms, which compensate for environmental variations in a controlled variable's inflow or outflow fluxes, and allow for the presence of robust temperature compensation. These two classes of homeostatic mechanisms arise due to the fact that concentrations must have positive values. We show that the concept of integral control (or integral feedback), which leads to robust homeostasis, is associated with a control species that has to work under zero-order flux conditions and does not necessarily require the presence of a physico-chemical feedback structure. There are interesting links between the two identified classes of homeostatic mechanisms and molecular mechanisms found in mammalian iron and calcium homeostasis, indicating that homeostatic mechanisms may underlie similar molecular control structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Blood / metabolism
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Temperature


  • Iron
  • Calcium