Monte Carlo analysis of obstructed diffusion in three dimensions: application to molecular diffusion in organelles

Biophys J. 1998 May;74(5):2722-30. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(98)77978-0.


Molecular transport in the aqueous lumen of organelles involves diffusion in a confined compartment with complex geometry. Monte Carlo simulations of particle diffusion in three dimensions were carried out to evaluate the influence of organelle structure on diffusive transport and to relate experimental photobleaching data to intrinsic diffusion coefficients. Two organelle structures were modeled: a mitochondria-like long closed cylinder containing fixed luminal obstructions of variable number and size, and an endoplasmic reticulum-like network of interconnected cylinders of variable diameter and density. Trajectories were computed in each simulation for >10(5) particles, generally for >10(5) time steps. Computed time-dependent concentration profiles agreed quantitatively with analytical solutions of the diffusion equation for simple geometries. For mitochondria-like cylinders, significant slowing of diffusion required large or wide single obstacles, or multiple obstacles. In simulated spot photobleaching experiments, a approximately 25% decrease in apparent diffusive transport rate (defined by the time to 75% fluorescence recovery) was found for a single thin transverse obstacle occluding 93% of lumen area, a single 53%-occluding obstacle of width 16 lattice points (8% of cylinder length), 10 equally spaced 53% obstacles alternately occluding opposite halves of the cylinder lumen, or particle binding to walls (with mean residence time = 10 time steps). Recovery curve shape with obstacles showed long tails indicating anomalous diffusion. Simulations also demonstrated the utility of measurement of fluorescence depletion at a spot distant from the bleach zone. For a reticulum-like network, particle diffusive transport was mildly reduced from that in unobstructed three-dimensional space. In simulated photobleaching experiments, apparent diffusive transport was decreased by 39-60% in reticular structures in which 90-97% of space was occluded. These computations provide an approach to analyzing photobleaching data in terms of microscopic diffusive properties and support the paradigm that organellar barriers must be quite severe to seriously impede solute diffusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / physiology
  • Fluorescence
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Structural
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Organelles / physiology*
  • Organelles / ultrastructure
  • Signal Transduction