MitoCore: a curated constraint-based model for simulating human central metabolism

25 Nov 2017

Abstract Background The complexity of metabolic networks can make the origin and impact of changes in central metabolism occurring during diseases difficult to understand. Computer simulations can help unravel this complexity, and progress has advanced in genome-scale metabolic models. However, many models produce unrealistic results when challenged to simulate abnormal metabolism as they include incorrect specification and localisation of reactions and transport steps, incorrect reaction parameters, and confounding of prosthetic groups and free metabolites in reactions. Other common drawbacks are due to their scale, making them difficult to parameterise and simulation results hard to interpret. Therefore, it remains important to develop smaller, manually curated models. Results We present MitoCore, a manually curated constraint-based computer model of human metabolism that incorporates the complexity of central metabolism and simulates this metabolism successfully under normal and abnormal physiological conditions, including hypoxia and mitochondrial diseases. MitoCore describes 324 metabolic reactions, 83 transport steps between mitochondrion and cytosol, and 74 metabolite inputs and outputs through the plasma membrane, to produce a model of manageable scale for easy interpretation of results. Its key innovations include a more accurate partitioning of metabolism between cytosol and mitochondrial matrix; better modelling of connecting transport steps; differentiation of prosthetic groups and free co-factors in reactions; and a new representation of the respiratory chain and the proton motive force. MitoCore’s default parameters simulate normal cardiomyocyte metabolism, and to improve usability and allow comparison with other models and types of analysis, its reactions and metabolites have extensive annotation, and cross-reference identifiers from Virtual Metabolic Human database and KEGG. These innovations—including over 100 reactions absent or modified from Recon 2—are necessary to model central metabolism more accurately. Conclusion We anticipate MitoCore as a research tool for scientists, from experimentalists looking to interpret their data and test hypotheses, to experienced modellers predicting the consequences of disease or using computationally intensive methods that are infeasible with larger models, as well as a teaching tool for those new to modelling and needing a small, manageable model on which to learn and experiment.