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We consider a sequential cascade of molecular first-reaction events towards a terminal reaction centre in which each reaction step is controlled by diffusive motion of the particles. The model studied here represents a typical reaction setting encountered in diverse molecular biology systems, in which, e.g. a signal transduction proceeds via a series of consecutive 'messengers': the first messenger has to find its respective immobile target site triggering a launch of the second messenger, the second messenger seeks its own target site and provokes a launch of the third messenger and so on, resembling a relay race in human competitions. For such a molecular relay race taking place in infinite one-, two- and three-dimensional systems, we find exact expressions for the probability density function of the time instant of the terminal reaction event, conditioned on preceding successful reaction events on an ordered array of target sites. The obtained expressions pertain to the most general conditions: number of intermediate stages and the corresponding diffusion coefficients, the sizes of the target sites, the distances between them, as well as their reactivities are arbitrary.

In the scenario of the narrow escape problem (NEP) a particle diffuses in a finite container and eventually leaves it through a small 'escape window' in the otherwise impermeable boundary, once it arrives to this window and crosses an entropic barrier at the entrance to it. This generic problem is mathematically identical to that of a diffusion-mediated reaction with a partially-reactive site on the container's boundary. Considerable knowledge is available on the dependence of the mean first-reaction time (FRT) on the pertinent parameters. We here go a distinct step further and derive the full FRT distribution for the NEP. We demonstrate that typical FRTs may be orders of magnitude shorter than the mean one, thus resulting in a strong defocusing of characteristic temporal scales. We unveil the geometry-control of the typical times, emphasising the role of the initial distance to the target as a decisive parameter. A crucial finding is the further FRT defocusing due to the barrier, necessitating repeated escape or reaction attempts interspersed with bulk excursions. These results add new perspectives and offer a broad comprehension of various features of the by-now classical NEP that are relevant for numerous biological and technological systems.

We consider the first-passage problem for N identical independent particles that are initially released uniformly in a finite domain Ω and then diffuse toward a reactive area Γ, which can be part of the outer boundary of Ω or a reaction centre in the interior of Ω. For both cases of perfect and partial reactions, we obtain the explicit formulas for the first two moments of the fastest first-passage time (fFPT), i.e., the time when the first out of the N particles reacts with Γ. Moreover, we investigate the full probability density of the fFPT. We discuss a significant role of the initial condition in the scaling of the average fFPT with the particle number N, namely, a much stronger dependence (1/N and 1/N² for partially and perfectly reactive targets, respectively), in contrast to the well known inverse-logarithmic behaviour found when all particles are released from the same fixed point. We combine analytic solutions with scaling arguments and stochastic simulations to rationalise our results, which open new perspectives for studying the relevance of multiple searchers in various situations of molecular reactions, in particular, in living cells.

Effects of the target aspect ratio and intrinsic reactivity onto diffusive search in bounded domains
(2017)

Westudy the mean first passage time (MFPT) to a reaction event on a specific site in a cylindrical geometry—characteristic, for instance, for bacterial cells, with a concentric inner cylinder representing the nuclear region of the bacterial cell. Asimilar problem emerges in the description of a diffusive search by a transcription factor protein for a specific binding region on a single strand of DNA.We develop a unified theoretical approach to study the underlying boundary value problem which is based on a self-consistent approximation of the mixed boundary condition. Our approach permits us to derive explicit, novel, closed-form expressions for the MFPT valid for a generic setting with an arbitrary relation between the system parameters.Weanalyse this general result in the asymptotic limits appropriate for the above-mentioned biophysical problems. Our investigation reveals the crucial role of the target aspect ratio and of the intrinsic reactivity of the binding region, which were disregarded in previous studies. Theoretical predictions are confirmed by numerical simulations.

Effects of the target aspect ratio and intrinsic reactivity onto diffusive search in bounded domains
(2017)

We study the mean first passage time (MFPT) to a reaction event on a specific site in a cylindrical geometry-characteristic, for instance, for bacterial cells, with a concentric inner cylinder representing the nuclear region of the bacterial cell. A similar problem emerges in the description of a diffusive search by a transcription factor protein for a specific binding region on a single strand of DNA. We develop a unified theoretical approach to study the underlying boundary value problem which is based on a self-consistent approximation of the mixed boundary condition. Our approach permits us to derive explicit, novel, closed-form expressions for the MFPT valid for a generic setting with an arbitrary relation between the system parameters. We analyse this general result in the asymptotic limits appropriate for the above-mentioned biophysical problems. Our investigation reveals the crucial role of the target aspect ratio and of the intrinsic reactivity of the binding region, which were disregarded in previous studies. Theoretical predictions are confirmed by numerical simulations.

Textbook concepts of diffusion-versus kinetic-control are well-defined for reaction-kinetics involving macroscopic concentrations of diffusive reactants that are adequately described by rate-constants—the inverse of the mean-first-passage-time to the reaction-event. In contradiction, an open important question is whether the mean-first-passage-time alone is a sufficient measure for biochemical reactions that involve nanomolar reactant concentrations. Here, using a simple yet generic, exactly solvable model we study the effect of diffusion and chemical reaction-limitations on the full reaction-time distribution. We show that it has a complex structure with four distinct regimes delineated by three characteristic time scales spanning a window of several decades. Consequently, the reaction-times are defocused: no unique time-scale characterises the reaction-process, diffusion- and kinetic-control can no longer be disentangled, and it is imperative to know the full reaction-time distribution. We introduce the concepts of geometry- and reaction-control, and also quantify each regime by calculating the corresponding reaction depth.

Towards a full quantitative description of single-molecule reaction kinetics in biological cells
(2018)

The first-passage time (FPT), i.e., the moment when a stochastic process reaches a given threshold value for the first time, is a fundamental mathematical concept with immediate applications. In particular, it quantifies the statistics of instances when biomolecules in a biological cell reach their specific binding sites and trigger cellular regulation. Typically, the first-passage properties are given in terms of mean first-passage times. However, modern experiments now monitor single-molecular binding-processes in living cells and thus provide access to the full statistics of the underlying first-passage events, in particular, inherent cell-to-cell fluctuations. We here present a robust explicit approach for obtaining the distribution of FPTs to a small partially reactive target in cylindrical-annulus domains, which represent typical bacterial and neuronal cell shapes. We investigate various asymptotic behaviours of this FPT distribution and show that it is typically very broad in many biological situations, thus, the mean FPT can differ from the most probable FPT by orders of magnitude. The most probable FPT is shown to strongly depend only on the starting position within the geometry and to be almost independent of the target size and reactivity. These findings demonstrate the dramatic relevance of knowing the full distribution of FPTs and thus open new perspectives for a more reliable description of many intracellular processes initiated by the arrival of one or few biomolecules to a small, spatially localised region inside the cell.