A method for accounting for maintenance costs in flux balance analysis improves the prediction of plant cell metabolic phenotypes under stress conditions

Plant J. 2013 Sep;75(6):1050-61. doi: 10.1111/tpj.12252. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Flux balance models of metabolism generally utilize synthesis of biomass as the main determinant of intracellular fluxes. However, the biomass constraint alone is not sufficient to predict realistic fluxes in central heterotrophic metabolism of plant cells because of the major demand on the energy budget due to transport costs and cell maintenance. This major limitation can be addressed by incorporating transport steps into the metabolic model and by implementing a procedure that uses Pareto optimality analysis to explore the trade-off between ATP and NADPH production for maintenance. This leads to a method for predicting cell maintenance costs on the basis of the measured flux ratio between the oxidative steps of the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway and glycolysis. We show that accounting for transport and maintenance costs substantially improves the accuracy of fluxes predicted from a flux balance model of heterotrophic Arabidopsis cells in culture, irrespective of the objective function used in the analysis. Moreover, when the new method was applied to cells under control, elevated temperature and hyper-osmotic conditions, only elevated temperature led to a substantial increase in cell maintenance costs. It is concluded that the hyper-osmotic conditions tested did not impose a metabolic stress, in as much as the metabolic network is not forced to devote more resources to cell maintenance.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; cell maintenance; flux balance analysis; genome-scale metabolic model; hyper-osmotic stress; metabolic flux analysis; subcellular compartmentation; technical advance; temperature stress; transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / genetics
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis / enzymology
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Cell Compartmentation* / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism* / genetics
  • Genome, Plant
  • Hot Temperature
  • NADP / genetics
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Phenotype
  • Stress, Physiological* / genetics


  • NADP
  • Adenosine Triphosphate