Background: Classical descriptions of enzyme kinetics ignore the physical nature of the intracellular environment. Main implicit assumptions behind such approaches are that reactions occur in compartment volumes which are large enough so that molecular discreteness can be ignored and that molecular transport occurs via diffusion. Though these conditions are frequently met in laboratory conditions, they are not characteristic of the intracellular environment, which is compartmentalized at the micron and submicron scales and in which active means of transport play a significant role.
Results: Starting from a master equation description of enzyme reaction kinetics and assuming metabolic steady-state conditions, we derive novel mesoscopic rate equations which take into account (i) the intrinsic molecular noise due to the low copy number of molecules in intracellular compartments (ii) the physical nature of the substrate transport process, i. e. diffusion or vesicle-mediated transport. These equations replace the conventional macroscopic and deterministic equations in the context of intracellular kinetics. The latter are recovered in the limit of infinite compartment volumes. We find that deviations from the predictions of classical kinetics are pronounced (hundreds of percent in the estimate for the reaction velocity) for enzyme reactions occurring in compartments which are smaller than approximately 200 nm, for the case of substrate transport to the compartment being mediated principally by vesicle or granule transport and in the presence of competitive enzyme inhibitors.
Conclusion: The derived mesoscopic rate equations describe subcellular enzyme reaction kinetics, taking into account, for the first time, the simultaneous influence of both intrinsic noise and the mode of transport. They clearly show the range of applicability of the conventional deterministic equation models, namely intracellular conditions compatible with diffusive transport and simple enzyme mechanisms in several hundred nanometre-sized compartments. An active transport mechanism coupled with large intrinsic noise in enzyme concentrations is shown to lead to huge deviations from the predictions of deterministic models. This has implications for the common approach of modeling large intracellular reaction networks using ordinary differential equations and also for the calculation of the effective dosage of competitive inhibitor drugs.