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A topic of intense current investigation pursues the question of how the highly crowded environment of biological cells affects the dynamic properties of passively diffusing particles. Motivated by recent experiments we report results of extensive simulations of the motion of a finite sized tracer particle in a heterogeneously crowded environment made up of quenched distributions of monodisperse crowders of varying sizes in finite circular two-dimensional domains. For given spatial distributions of monodisperse crowders we demonstrate how anomalous diffusion with strongly non-Gaussian features arises in this model system. We investigate both biologically relevant situations of particles released either at the surface of an inner domain or at the outer boundary, exhibiting distinctly different features of the observed anomalous diffusion for heterogeneous distributions of crowders. Specifically we reveal an asymmetric spreading of tracers even at moderate crowding. In addition to the mean squared displacement (MSD) and local diffusion exponent we investigate the magnitude and the amplitude scatter of the time averaged MSD of individual tracer trajectories, the non-Gaussianity parameter, and the van Hove correlation function. We also quantify how the average tracer diffusivity varies with the position in the domain with a heterogeneous radial distribution of crowders and examine the behaviour of the survival probability and the dynamics of the tracer survival probability. Inter alia, the systems we investigate are related to the passive transport of lipid molecules and proteins in two-dimensional crowded membranes or the motion in colloidal solutions or emulsions in effectively two-dimensional geometries, as well as inside supercrowded, surface adhered 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. 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.

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.

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.

We study the probability density function (PDF) of the first-reaction times between a diffusive ligand and a membrane-bound, immobile imperfect target region in a restricted 'onion-shell' geometry bounded by two nested membranes of arbitrary shapes. For such a setting, encountered in diverse molecular signal transduction pathways or in the narrow escape problem with additional steric constraints, we derive an exact spectral form of the PDF, as well as present its approximate form calculated by help of the so-called self-consistent approximation. For a particular case when the nested domains are concentric spheres, we get a fully explicit form of the approximated PDF, assess the accuracy of this approximation, and discuss various facets of the obtained distributions. Our results can be straightforwardly applied to describe the PDF of the terminal reaction event in multi-stage signal transduction processes.

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.