Faculty Articles

Leveraging Prior Knowledge to Recover Characteristic Immune Regulatory Motifs in Gulf War Illness

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Frontiers in Physiology



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Potentially linked to the basic physiology of stress response, Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a debilitating condition presenting with complex immune, endocrine and neurological symptoms. Here we interrogate the immune response to physiological stress by measuring 16 blood-borne immune markers at 8 time points before, during and after maximum exercise challenge in n = 12 GWI veterans and n = 11 healthy veteran controls deployed to the same theater. Immune markers were combined into functional sets and the dynamics of their joint expression described as classical rate equations. These empirical networks were further informed structurally by projection onto prior knowledge networks mined from the literature. Of the 49 literature-informed immune signaling interactions, 21 were found active in the combined exercise response data. However, only 4 signals were common to both subject groups while 7 were uniquely active in GWI and 10 uniquely active in healthy veterans. Feedforward mediation of IL-23 and IL-17 by IL-6 and IL-10 emerged as distinguishing control elements that were characteristically active in GWI versus healthy subjects. Simulated restructuring of the regulatory circuitry in GWI as a result of applying an IL-6 receptor antagonist in combination with either a Th1 (IL-2, IFNγ, and TNFα) or IL-23 receptor antagonist predicted a partial rescue of immune response elements previously associated with illness severity. Overall, results suggest that pharmacologically altering the topology of the immune response circuitry identified as active in GWI can inform on strategies that while not curative, may nonetheless deliver a reduction in symptom burden. A lasting and more complete remission in GWI may therefore require manipulation of a broader physiology, namely one that includes endocrine oversight of immune function.



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Peer Reviewed