Exploiting mathematical models to illuminate electrophysiological variability between individuals

Amrita X. Sarkar, David J. Christini, Eric A. Sobie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Across individuals within a population, several levels of variability are observed, from the differential expression of ion channels at the molecular level, to the various action potential morphologies observed at the cellular level, to divergent responses to drugs at the organismal level. However, the limited ability of experiments to probe complex interactions between components has hitherto hindered our understanding of the factors that cause a range of behaviours within a population. Variability is a challenging issue that is encountered in all physiological disciplines, but recent work suggests that novel methods for analysing mathematical models can assist in illuminating its causes. In this review, we discuss mathematical modelling studies in cardiac electrophysiology and neuroscience that have enhanced our understanding of variability in a number of key areas. Specifically, we discuss parameter sensitivity analysis techniques that may be applied to generate quantitative predictions based on considering behaviours within a population of models, thereby providing novel insight into variability. Our discussion focuses on four issues that have benefited from the utilization of these methods: (1) the comparison of different electrophysiological models of cardiac myocytes, (2) the determination of the individual contributions of different molecular changes in complex disease phenotypes, (3) the identification of the factors responsible for the variable response to drugs, and (4) the constraining of free parameters in electrophysiological models of heart cells. Together, the studies that we discuss suggest that rigorous analyses of mathematical models can generate quantitative predictions regarding how molecular-level variations contribute to functional differences between experimental samples. These strategies may be applicable not just in cardiac electrophysiology, but in a wide range of disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2555-2567
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2012


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