A simple method for identifying parameter correlations in partially observed linear dynamic models
Background Parameter estimation represents one of the most significant challenges in systems biology. This is because biological models commonly contain a large number of parameters among which there may be functional interrelationships, thus leading to the problem of non-identifiability. Although identifiability analysis has been extensively studied by analytical as well as numerical approaches, systematic methods for remedying practically non-identifiable models have rarely been investigated. Results We propose a simple method for identifying pairwise correlations and higher order interrelationships of parameters in partially observed linear dynamic models. This is made by derivation of the output sensitivity matrix and analysis of the linear dependencies of its columns. Consequently, analytical relations between the identifiability of the model parameters and the initial conditions as well as the input functions can be achieved. In the case of structural non-identifiability, identifiable combinations can be obtained by solving the resulting homogenous linear equations. In the case of practical non-identifiability, experiment conditions (i.e. initial condition and constant control signals) can be provided which are necessary for remedying the non-identifiability and unique parameter estimation. It is noted that the approach does not consider noisy data. In this way, the practical non-identifiability issue, which is popular for linear biological models, can be remedied. Several linear compartment models including an insulin receptor dynamics model are taken to illustrate the application of the proposed approach. Conclusions Both structural and practical identifiability of partially observed linear dynamic models can be clarified by the proposed method. The result of this method provides important information for experimental design to remedy the practical non-identifiability if applicable. The derivation of the method is straightforward and thus the algorithm can be easily implemented into a software packet.