13C metabolic flux analysis in complex systems

Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2011 Feb;22(1):103-8. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2010.08.009. Epub 2010 Sep 15.


Experimental determination of in vivo metabolic rates by methods of (13)C metabolic flux analysis is a pivotal approach to unravel structure and regulation of metabolic networks, in particular with microorganisms grown in minimal media. However, the study of real-life and eukaryotic systems calls for the quantification of fluxes also in cellular compartments, rich media, cell-wide metabolic networks, dynamic systems or single cells. These scenarios drastically increase the complexity of the task, which is only partly dealt by existing approaches that rely on rigorous simulations of label propagation through metabolic networks and require multiple labeling experiments or a priori information on pathway inactivity to simplify the problem. Albeit qualitative and largely driven by human interpretation, statistical analysis of measured (13)C-patterns remains the exclusive alternative to comprehensively handle such complex systems. In the future, this practice will be complemented by novel modeling frameworks to assay particular fluxes within a network by stable isotopic tracer for targeted validation of well-defined hypotheses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Escherichia coli
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Kinetics
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Models, Biological
  • Systems Biology / methods


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Glucose