In genetic circuits, when the messenger RNA lifetime is short compared to the cell cycle, proteins are produced in geometrically distributed bursts, which greatly affects the cellular switching dynamics between different metastable phenotypic states. Motivated by this scenario, we study a general problem of switching or escape in stochastic populations, where influx of particles occurs in groups or bursts, sampled from an arbitrary distribution. The fact that the step size of the influx reaction is a priori unknown and, in general, may fluctuate in time with a given correlation time and statistics, introduces an additional nondemographic reaction-step-size noise into the system. Employing the probability-generating function technique in conjunction with Hamiltonian formulation, we are able to map the problem in the leading order onto solving a stationary Hamilton-Jacobi equation. We show that compared to the "usual case" of single-step influx, bursty influx exponentially decreases the population's mean escape time from its long-lived metastable state. In particular, close to bifurcation we find a simple analytical expression for the mean escape time which solely depends on the mean and variance of the burst-size distribution. Our results are demonstrated on several realistic distributions and compare well with numerical Monte Carlo simulations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Baruch Meerson for useful discussions. This work was supported by Grant No. 300/14 of the Israel Science Foundation.
© 2016 American Physical Society.