Revising Berg-Purcell for finite receptor kinetics

Gregory Handy, Sean D. Lawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


From nutrient uptake to chemoreception to synaptic transmission, many systems in cell biology depend on molecules diffusing and binding to membrane receptors. Mathematical analysis of such systems often neglects the fact that receptors process molecules at finite kinetic rates. A key example is the celebrated formula of Berg and Purcell for the rate that cell surface receptors capture extracellular molecules. Indeed, this influential result is only valid if receptors transport molecules through the cell wall at a rate much faster than molecules arrive at receptors. From a mathematical perspective, ignoring receptor kinetics is convenient because it makes the diffusing molecules independent. In contrast, including receptor kinetics introduces correlations between the diffusing molecules because, for example, bound receptors may be temporarily blocked from binding additional molecules. In this work, we present a modeling framework for coupling bulk diffusion to surface receptors with finite kinetic rates. The framework uses boundary homogenization to couple the diffusion equation to nonlinear ordinary differential equations on the boundary. We use this framework to derive an explicit formula for the cellular uptake rate and show that the analysis of Berg and Purcell significantly overestimates uptake in some typical biophysical scenarios. We confirm our analysis by numerical simulations of a many-particle stochastic system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2237-2248
Number of pages12
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

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© 2021 Biophysical Society


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