Quantitative Biology

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 1–29 | Cite as

Modeling stochastic noise in gene regulatory systems

  • Arwen Meister
  • Chao Du
  • Ye Henry Li
  • Wing Hung WongEmail author


The Master equation is considered the gold standard for modeling the stochastic mechanisms of gene regulation in molecular detail, but it is too complex to solve exactly in most cases, so approximation and simulation methods are essential. However, there is still a lack of consensus about the best way to carry these out. To help clarify the situation, we review Master equation models of gene regulation, theoretical approximations based on an expansion method due to N.G. van Kampen and R. Kubo, and simulation algorithms due to D.T. Gillespie and P. Langevin. Expansion of the Master equation shows that for systems with a single stable steady-state, the stochastic model reduces to a deterministic model in a first-order approximation. Additional theory, also due to van Kampen, describes the asymptotic behavior of multistable systems. To support and illustrate the theory and provide further insight into the complex behavior of multistable systems, we perform a detailed simulation study comparing the various approximation and simulation methods applied to synthetic gene regulatory systems with various qualitative characteristics. The simulation studies show that for large stochastic systems with a single steady-state, deterministic models are quite accurate, since the probability distribution of the solution has a single peak tracking the deterministic trajectory whose variance is inversely proportional to the system size. In multistable stochastic systems, large fluctuations can cause individual trajectories to escape from the domain of attraction of one steady-state and be attracted to another, so the system eventually reaches a multimodal probability distribution in which all stable steadystates are represented proportional to their relative stability. However, since the escape time scales exponentially with system size, this process can take a very long time in large systems.


gene regulation stochastic modeling simulation Master equation Gillespie algorithm Langevin equation 


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arwen Meister
    • 1
  • Chao Du
    • 1
  • Ye Henry Li
    • 1
  • Wing Hung Wong
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Computational Biology Lab, Bio-X ProgramStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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