Mathematical models are increasingly being used to understand complex biochemical systems, to analyse experimental data and make predictions about unobserved quantities. However, we rarely know how robust our conclusions are with respect to the choice and uncertainties of the model. Using algebraic techniques, we study systematically the effects of intermediate, or transient, species in biochemical systems and provide a simple, yet rigorous mathematical classification of all models obtained from a core model by including intermediates. Main examples include enzymatic and post-translational modification systems, where intermediates often are considered insignificant and neglected in a model, or they are not included because we are unaware of their existence. All possible models obtained from the core model are classified into a finite number of classes. Each class is defined by a mathematically simple canonical model that characterizes crucial dynamical properties, such as mono- and multistationarity and stability of steady states, of all models in the class. We show that if the core model does not have conservation laws, then the introduction of intermediates does not change the steady-state concentrations of the species in the core model, after suitable matching of parameters. Importantly, our results provide guidelines to the modeller in choosing between models and in distinguishing their properties. Further, our work provides a formal way of comparing models that share a common skeleton.
Journal of the Royal Society. Interface, 2013, Vol 10, Issue 87