Constraint-based models of metabolism are a widely used framework for predicting flux distributions in genome-scale biochemical networks. The number of published methods for integration of transcriptomic data into constraint-based models has been rapidly increasing. So far the predictive capability of these methods has not been critically evaluated and compared. This work presents a survey of recently published methods that use transcript levels to try to improve metabolic flux predictions either by generating flux distributions or by creating context-specific models. A subset of these methods is then systematically evaluated using published data from three different case studies in E. coli and S. cerevisiae. The flux predictions made by different methods using transcriptomic data are compared against experimentally determined extracellular and intracellular fluxes (from 13C-labeling data). The sensitivity of the results to method-specific parameters is also evaluated, as well as their robustness to noise in the data. The results show that none of the methods outperforms the others for all cases. Also, it is observed that for many conditions, the predictions obtained by simple flux balance analysis using growth maximization and parsimony criteria are as good or better than those obtained using methods that incorporate transcriptomic data. We further discuss the differences in the mathematical formulation of the methods, and their relation to the results we have obtained, as well as the connection to the underlying biological principles of metabolic regulation.
P L O S Computational Biology (online), 2014, Vol 10, Issue 4