Smoothing in linear multicompartment biological processes subject to stochastic input

AP Browning, AL Jenner, RE Baker, PK Maini
Physical Review E (2024)

Many physical and biological systems rely on the progression of material through multiple independent stages. In viral replication, for example, virions enter a cell to undergo a complex process comprising several disparate stages before the eventual accumulation and release of replicated virions. While such systems may have some control over the internal dynamics that make up this progression, a challenge for many is to regulate behaviour under what are often highly variable external environments acting as system inputs.

In this work, we study a simple analogue of this problem through a linear multicompartment model subject to a stochastic input in the form of a mean-reverting Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process, a type of Gaussian process. By expressing the system as a multidimensional Gaussian process, we derive several closed-form analytical results relating to the covariances and autocorrelations of the system, quantifying the smoothing effect discrete compartments afford multicompartment systems. Semi-analytical results demonstrate that feedback and feedforward loops can enhance system robustness, and simulation results probe the intractable problem of the first passage time distribution, which has specific relevance to eventual cell lysis in the viral replication cycle. Finally, we demonstrate that the smoothing seen in the process is a consequence of the discreteness of the system, and does not manifest in an equivalent continuum limit description. While we make progress through analysis of a simple linear problem, many of our insights are applicable more generally, and our work enables future analysis into multicompartment processes subject to stochastic inputs.