Bayesian methods are advantageous for biological modelling studies due to their ability to quantify and characterize posterior variability in model parameters. When Bayesian methods cannot be applied, due either to non-determinism in the model or limitations on system observability, approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) methods can be used to similar effect, despite producing inflated estimates of the true posterior variance. Owing to generally differing application domains, there are few studies comparing Bayesian and ABC methods, and thus there is little understanding of the properties and magnitude of this uncertainty inflation. To address this problem, we present two popular strategies for ABC sampling that we have adapted to perform exact Bayesian inference, and compare them on several model problems. We find that one sampler was impractical for exact inference due to its sensitivity to a key normalizing constant, and additionally highlight sensitivities of both samplers to various algorithmic parameters and model conditions. We conclude with a study of the O'Hara-Rudy cardiac action potential model to quantify the uncertainty amplification resulting from employing ABC using a set of clinically relevant biomarkers. We hope that this work serves to guide the implementation and comparative assessment of Bayesian and ABC sampling techniques in biological models.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of the Royal Society, Interface

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Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK