Decoding complex chemical mixtures with a physical model of a sensor array

Julia Tsitron, Addison D. Ault, James R. Broach, Alexandre V. Morozov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Combinatorial sensor arrays, such as the olfactory system, can detect a large number of analytes using a relatively small number of receptors. However, the complex pattern of receptor responses to even a single analyte, coupled with the non-linearity of responses to mixtures of analytes, makes quantitative prediction of compound concentrations in a mixture a challenging task. Here we develop a physical model that explicitly takes receptor-ligand interactions into account, and apply it to infer concentrations of highly related sugar nucleotides from the output of four engineered G-protein-coupled receptors. We also derive design principles that enable accurate mixture discrimination with cross-specific sensor arrays. The optimal sensor parameters exhibit relatively weak dependence on component concentrations, making a single designed array useful for analyzing a sizable range of mixtures. The maximum number of mixture components that can be successfully discriminated is twice the number of sensors in the array. Finally, antagonistic receptor responses, well-known to play an important role in natural olfactory systems, prove to be essential for the accurate prediction of component concentrations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002224
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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