Validation and selection of ODE based systems biology models: How to arrive at more reliable decisions

Dicle Hasdemir, Huub C.J. Hoefsloot*, Age K. Smilde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Most ordinary differential equation (ODE) based modeling studies in systems biology involve a hold-out validation step for model validation. In this framework a pre-determined part of the data is used as validation data and, therefore it is not used for estimating the parameters of the model. The model is assumed to be validated if the model predictions on the validation dataset show good agreement with the data. Model selection between alternative model structures can also be performed in the same setting, based on the predictive power of the model structures on the validation dataset. However, drawbacks associated with this approach are usually under-estimated. Results: We have carried out simulations by using a recently published High Osmolarity Glycerol (HOG) pathway from S.cerevisiae to demonstrate these drawbacks. We have shown that it is very important how the data is partitioned and which part of the data is used for validation purposes. The hold-out validation strategy leads to biased conclusions, since it can lead to different validation and selection decisions when different partitioning schemes are used. Furthermore, finding sensible partitioning schemes that would lead to reliable decisions are heavily dependent on the biology and unknown model parameters which turns the problem into a paradox. This brings the need for alternative validation approaches that offer flexible partitioning of the data. For this purpose, we have introduced a stratified random cross-validation (SRCV) approach that successfully overcomes these limitations. Conclusions: SRCV leads to more stable decisions for both validation and selection which are not biased by underlying biological phenomena. Furthermore, it is less dependent on the specific noise realization in the data. Therefore, it proves to be a promising alternative to the standard hold-out validation strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalBMC Systems Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross validation
  • Differential equations
  • Hold-out validation
  • Kinetic models
  • Model selection
  • Model validation
  • ODE


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