Stepwise inference of likely dynamic flux distributions from metabolic time series data

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Most metabolic pathways contain more reactions than metabolites and therefore have a wide stoichiometric matrix that corresponds to infinitely many possible flux distributions that are perfectly compatible with the dynamics of the metabolites in a given dataset. This under-determinedness poses a challenge for the quantitative characterization of flux distributions from time series data and thus for the design of adequate, predictive models. Here we propose a method that reduces the degrees of freedom in a stepwise manner and leads to a dynamic flux distribution that is, in a statistical sense, likely to be close to the true distribution.


We applied the proposed method to the lignin biosynthesis pathway in switchgrass. The system consists of 16 metabolites and 23 enzymatic reactions. It has seven degrees of freedom and therefore admits a large space of dynamic flux distributions that all fit a set of metabolic time series data equally well. The proposed method reduces this space in a systematic and biologically reasonable manner and converges to a likely dynamic flux distribution in just a few iterations. The estimated solution and the true flux distribution, which is known in this case, show excellent agreement and thereby lend support to the method.

Availability and Implementation:

The computational model was implemented in MATLAB (version R2014a, The MathWorks, Natick, MA). The source code is available at and

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Supplementary information:

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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