Biological systems often have to measure extremely low concentrations of chemicals with high precision. When dealing with such small numbers of molecules, the inevitable randomness of physical transport processes and binding reactions will limit the precision with which measurements can be made. An important question is what the lower bound on the noise would be in such measurements. Using the theory of diffusion-influenced reactions, we derive an analytical expression for the precision of concentration estimates that are obtained by monitoring the state of a receptor to which a diffusing ligand can bind. The variance in the estimate consists of two terms, one resulting from the intrinsic binding kinetics and the other from the diffusive arrival of ligand at the receptor. The latter term is identical to the fundamental limit derived by Berg and Purcell (Biophys. J., 1977), but disagrees with a more recent expression by Bialek and Setayeshgar. Comparing the theoretical predictions against results from particle-based simulations confirms the accuracy of the resulting expression and reaffirms the fundamental limit established by Berg and Purcell.

Elsevier/ Cell Press
B.M. Mulder (Bela)
Biophys. J.
Biochemical Networks

Kaizu, K., de Ronde, W. H., Paijmans, J., Takahashi, K., Tostevin, F., & ten Wolde, P. R. (2014). The Berg-Purcell limit revisited. Biophys. J., 106(4), 976–985. doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2013.12.030