Improving Parameter Inference from FRAP Data: an Analysis Motivated by Pattern Formation in the Drosophila Wing Disc

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Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) is used to obtain quantitative information about molecular diffusion and binding kinetics at both cell and tissue levels of organization. FRAP models have been proposed to estimate the diffusion coefficients and binding kinetic parameters of species for a variety of biological systems and experimental settings. However, it is not clear what the connection among the diverse parameter estimates from different models of the same system is, whether the assumptions made in the model are appropriate, and what the qualities of the estimates are. Here we propose a new approach to investigate the discrepancies between parameters estimated from different models. We use a theoretical model to simulate the dynamics of a FRAP experiment and generate the data that are used in various recovery models to estimate the corresponding parameters. By postulating a recovery model identical to the theoretical model, we first establish that the appropriate choice of observation time can significantly improve the quality of estimates, especially when the diffusion and binding kinetics are not well balanced, in a sense made precise later. Secondly, we find that changing the balance between diffusion and binding kinetics by changing the size of the bleaching region, which gives rise to different FRAP curves, provides a priori knowledge of diffusion and binding kinetics, which is important for model formulation. We also show that the use of the spatial information in FRAP provides better parameter estimation. By varying the recovery model from a fixed theoretical model, we show that a simplified recovery model can adequately describe the FRAP process in some circumstances and establish the relationship between parameters in the theoretical model and those in the recovery model. We then analyze an example in which the data are generated with a model of intermediate complexity and the parameters are estimated using models of greater or less complexity, and show how sensitivity analysis can be used to improve FRAP model formulation. Lastly, we show how sophisticated global sensitivity analysis can be used to detect over-fitting when using a model that is too complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)448-497
Number of pages50
JournalBulletin of mathematical biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge discussion with Zhan Chen in early stages of this research, which was supported in part by NIH Grant GM29123.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Society for Mathematical Biology.


  • FRAP analysis
  • Parameter estimation
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Wing disc


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