A critical but often overlooked question in the study of ligands binding to proteins is whether the parameters obtained from analyzing binding data are practically identifiable (PI), i.e., whether the estimates obtained from fitting models to noisy data are accurate and unique. Here we report a general approach to assess and understand binding parameter identifiability, which provides a toolkit to assist experimentalists in the design of binding studies and in the analysis of binding data. The partial fraction (PF) expansion technique is used to decompose binding curves for proteins with n ligand-binding sites exactly and uniquely into n components, each of which has the form of a one-site binding curve. The association constants of the PF component curves, being the roots of an n-th order polynomial, may be real or complex. We demonstrate a fundamental connection between binding parameter identifiability and the nature of these one-site association constants: all binding parameters are identifiable if the constants are all real and distinct; otherwise, at least some of the parameters are not identifiable. The theory is used to construct identifiability maps from which the practical identifiability of binding parameters for any two-, three-, or four-site binding curve can be assessed. Instructions for extending the method to generate identifiability maps for proteins with more than four binding sites are also given. Further analysis of the identifiability maps leads to the simple rule that the maximum number of structurally identifiable binding parameters (shown in the previous paper to be equal to n) will also be PI only if the binding curve line shape contains n resolved components.
- Submitted: 29 September 2016
- Accepted: 28 November 2016
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