Analysis of precision in chemical oscillators: implications for circadian clocks
Biochemical reaction networks often exhibit spontaneous self-sustained oscillations. An example is the circadian oscillator that lies at the heart of daily rhythms in behavior and physiology in most organisms including humans. While the period of these oscillators evolved so that it resonates with the 24 h daily environmental cycles, the precision of the oscillator (quantified via the Q factor) is another relevant property of these cell-autonomous oscillators. Since this quantity can be measured in individual cells, it is of interest to better understand how this property behaves across mathematical models of these oscillators. Current theoretical schemes for computing the Q factors show limitations for both high-dimensional models and in the vicinity of Hopf bifurcations. Here, we derive low-noise approximations that lead to numerically stable schemes also in high-dimensional models. In addition, we generalize normal form reductions that are appropriate near Hopf bifurcations. Applying our approximations to two models of circadian clocks, we show that while the low-noise regime is faithfully recapitulated, increasing the level of noise leads to species-dependent precision. We emphasize that subcomponents of the oscillator gradually decouple from the core oscillator as noise increases, which allows us to identify the subnetworks responsible for robust rhythms.