Modeling heterogeneous responsiveness of intrinsic apoptosis pathway

Hsu Kiang Ooi, Lan Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: Apoptosis is a cell suicide mechanism that enables multicellular organisms to maintain homeostasis and to eliminate individual cells that threaten the organism's survival. Dependent on the type of stimulus, apoptosis can be propagated by extrinsic pathway or intrinsic pathway. The comprehensive understanding of the molecular mechanism of apoptotic signaling allows for development of mathematical models, aiming to elucidate dynamical and systems properties of apoptotic signaling networks. There have been extensive efforts in modeling deterministic apoptosis network accounting for average behavior of a population of cells. Cellular networks, however, are inherently stochastic and significant cell-to-cell variability in apoptosis response has been observed at single cell level.Results: To address the inevitable randomness in the intrinsic apoptosis mechanism, we develop a theoretical and computational modeling framework of intrinsic apoptosis pathway at single-cell level, accounting for both deterministic and stochastic behavior. Our deterministic model, adapted from the well-accepted Fussenegger model, shows that an additional positive feedback between the executioner caspase and the initiator caspase plays a fundamental role in yielding the desired property of bistability. We then examine the impact of intrinsic fluctuations of biochemical reactions, viewed as intrinsic noise, and natural variation of protein concentrations, viewed as extrinsic noise, on behavior of the intrinsic apoptosis network. Histograms of the steady-state output at varying input levels show that the intrinsic noise could elicit a wider region of bistability over that of the deterministic model. However, the system stochasticity due to intrinsic fluctuations, such as the noise of steady-state response and the randomness of response delay, shows that the intrinsic noise in general is insufficient to produce significant cell-to-cell variations at physiologically relevant level of molecular numbers. Furthermore, the extrinsic noise represented by random variations of two key apoptotic proteins, namely Cytochrome C and inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAP), is modeled separately or in combination with intrinsic noise. The resultant stochasticity in the timing of intrinsic apoptosis response shows that the fluctuating protein variations can induce cell-to-cell stochastic variability at a quantitative level agreeing with experiments. Finally, simulations illustrate that the mean abundance of fluctuating IAP protein is positively correlated with the degree of cellular stochasticity of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway.Conclusions: Our theoretical and computational study shows that the pronounced non-genetic heterogeneity in intrinsic apoptosis responses among individual cells plausibly arises from extrinsic rather than intrinsic origin of fluctuations. In addition, it predicts that the IAP protein could serve as a potential therapeutic target for suppression of the cell-to-cell variation in the intrinsic apoptosis responsiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalBMC Systems Biology
StatePublished - Jul 23 2013


  • Extrinsic noise
  • Intrinsic apoptosis pathway
  • Intrinsic noise
  • Stochastic model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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