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S Stromberg, R Antia, and I Nemenman. Population-expression models of immune response. Physical Biology 10, 035010, 2013. PDF, arXiv.
- The immune response to a pathogen has two basic features. The first is the expansion of a few pathogen-specific cells to form a population large enough to control the pathogen. The second is the process of differentiation of cells from an initial naive phenotype to an effector phenotype which controls the pathogen, and subsequently to a memory phenotype that is maintained and responsible for long-term protection. The expansion and the differentiation have been considered largely independently. Changes in cell populations are typically described using ecologically based ordinary differential equation models. In contrast, differentiation of single cells is studied within systems biology and is frequently modeled by considering changes in gene and protein expression in individual cells. Recent advances in experimental systems biology make available for the first time data to allow the coupling of population and high dimensional expression data of immune cells during infections. Here we describe and develop population-expression models which integrate these two processes into systems biology on the multicellular level. When translated into mathematical equations, these models result in non-conservative, non-local advection-diffusion equations. We describe situations where the population-expression approach can make correct inference from data while previous modeling approaches based on common simplifying assumptions would fail. We also explore how model reduction techniques can be used to build population-expression models, minimizing the complexity of the model while keeping the essential features of the system. While we consider problems in immunology in this paper, we expect population-expression models to be more broadly applicable.