Contributions of cell growth and biochemical reactions to nongenetic variability of cells

Biophys J. 2014 Jul 15;107(2):301-313. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2014.05.004.


Cell-to-cell variability in the molecular composition of isogenic, steady-state growing cells arises spontaneously from the inherent stochasticity of intracellular biochemical reactions and cell growth. Here, we present a general decomposition of the total variance in the copy number per cell of a particular molecule. It quantifies the individual contributions made by processes associated with cell growth, biochemical reactions, and their control. We decompose the growth contribution further into variance contributions of random partitioning of molecules at cell division, mother-cell heterogeneity, and variation in cell-cycle progression. The contribution made by biochemical reactions is expressed in variance generated by molecule synthesis, degradation, and their regulation. We use this theory to study the influence of different growth and reaction-related processes, such as DNA replication, variable molecule-partitioning probability, and synthesis bursts, on stochastic cell-to-cell variability. Using simulations, we characterize the impact of noise in the generation-time on cell-to-cell variability. This article offers a widely-applicable theory on the influence of biochemical reactions and cellular growth on the phenotypic variability of growing, isogenic cells. The theory aids the design and interpretation of experiments involving single-molecule counting or real-time imaging of fluorescent reporter constructs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cell Division*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phenotype*
  • Stochastic Processes