Indexed on: 17 Mar '05Published on: 17 Mar '05Published in: Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling
Although "buffering" as a homeostatic mechanism is a universal phenomenon, the quantitation of buffering action remains controversial and problematic. Major shortcomings are: lack of a buffering strength unit for some buffering phenomena, multiple and mutually incommensurable units for others, and lack of a genuine ratio scale for buffering strength. Here, I present a concept of buffering that overcomes these shortcomings.Briefly, when, for instance, some "free" H+ ions are added to a solution (e.g. in the form of strong acid), buffering is said to be present when not all H+ ions remain "free" (i.e., bound to H2O), but some become "bound" (i.e., bound to molecules other than H2O). The greater the number of H+ ions that become "bound" in this process, the greater the buffering action. This number can be expressed in two ways: 1) With respect to the number of total free ions added as "buffering coefficient b", defined in differential form as b = d(bound)/d(total). This measure expresses buffering action from nil to complete by a dimensionless number between 0 and 1, analogous to probabilites. 2) With respect to the complementary number of added ions that remain free as "buffering ratio B", defined as the differential B = d(bound)/d(free). The buffering ratio B provides an absolute ratio scale, where buffering action from nil to perfect corresponds to dimensionless numbers between 0 and infinity, and where equal differences of buffering action result in equal intervals on the scale. Formulated in purely mathematical, axiomatic form, the concept reveals striking overlap with the mathematical concept of probability. However, the concept also allows one to devise simple physical models capable of visualizing buffered systems and their behavior in an exact yet intuitive way.These two measures of buffering action can be generalized easily to any arbitrary quantity that partitions into two compartments or states, and are thus suited to serve as standard units for buffering action. Some exemplary treatments of classical and non-classical buffering phenomena are presented in the accompanying paper.