Researchers use computer model to probe mysteries of human immune system

June 25, 2012, Virginia Tech
Macrophages are cultured and transferred in the lab of Liwu Li, professor of biological sciences.

A new computational model developed by a team of Virginia Tech researchers and published in PLoS Computational Biology provides a framework to better understand responses of macrophage cells of the human immune system.

As the security guards of the body, must identify and respond to a pathogen attack while causing as little damage as possible to host cells. An excessive or prolonged immune response could lead to serious acute and such as multiple sclerosis, , and even sepsis. Therefore, studying how the macrophage immune response could be altered or reprogrammed by sequential pathogen attacks, known as priming and tolerance, is of vital importance to the field.

Jianhua Xing, assistant professor of biological sciences, collaborated with experimental immunologist Liwu Li, and computational biologist John Tyson, both professors of biological sciences, to develop the model with Yan Fu of Beijing, China, a student in the interdisciplinary doctoral program in genetics, bioinformatics, and computation biology. Trevor Glaros of Greencastle, Pa., a student in the biological sciences doctoral program in the College of Science, performed the experimental analyses regarding the endotoxin priming and tolerance in primary murine macrophages. All are affiliated with the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech.

"The concept of priming refers to the fact that if macrophages are exposed to a small dose of bacterial endotoxins, they are primed to respond strongly to a second exposure to a large dose of endotoxin. The concept of tolerance refers to the fact that if macrophages are exposed to a large dose of bacterial endotoxins initially, they are temporarily resistant to endotoxin challenges afterwards," Xing said.

The Virginia Tech team used the Metropolis algorithm, a computer simulation technique widely used in physics and chemistry, to enumerate possible giving rise to priming and tolerance.

The results of the model, supported by numerous experimental observations, may guide future experimental studies to identify molecules contributing to macrophage priming and tolerance.

"Because macrophage responses are highly diverse, additional modeling studies and experimental tests will be needed to understand better how well-mannered macrophages protect us from infection and how unruly macrophages damage our health," Tyson said. "We are convinced that mathematical modeling will provide novel insights into macrophage behavior, with significant medical implications."

Explore further: Predicting immune system responses to various stimuli

More information: Fu Y, Glaros T, Zhu M, Wang P, Wu Z, et al. (2012) Network Topologies and Dynamics Leading to Endotoxin Tolerance and Priming in Innate Immune Cells. PLoS Comput Biol 8(5): e1002526. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002526

Related Stories

Predicting immune system responses to various stimuli

April 14, 2011

Just like some people, macrophages—tiny cells that provide the immune system with a primary line of defense against pathogens—reveal a lot about themselves when challenged. Computer scientists and biologists at ...

Salmonella infection, but not as we know it

April 25, 2012

Researchers at Cambridge University have shed new light on a common food poisoning bug. Using real-time video microscopy, coupled with mathematical modelling, they have changed our assumptions about Salmonella and how it ...

Researchers discover new culprit in atherosclerosis

January 9, 2012

A new study by NYU Langone Medical Center researchers identified a new culprit that leads to atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fat and cholesterol that hardens into plaque and narrows arteries. The research, published ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.