College of Psychology: Faculty Articles


Succumbing to the Laws of Attraction: Exploring the Sometimes Pathogenic Versatility of Discrete Immune Logic

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mathematical immunology, logic circuits, emergent behavior, complexity, regulatory control

Publication Title

Systems Biomedicine








Feedback mechanisms throughout the immune and endocrine systems play a significant role in maintaining physiological homeostasis. Specifically, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axes contribute important oversight of immune activity and homeostatic regulation. We propose that these components form an overarching regulatory system capable of supporting multiple homeostatic regimes. These emerge as a result of the extensive feedback mechanisms involving cytokine and hormone signaling. Here we explore the possible role of such alternate regulatory programs in perpetuating chronic immune and endocrine dysfunction in males. To do this we represent documented interactions within and between components of the male HPA-HPG-immune system as a set of discrete logic circuits. Analysis of these regulatory circuits indicated that even in the absence of external perturbations this model HPA-HPG-immune network supported three distinct and stable homeostatic regimes. To investigate the relevance of these predicted homeostatic regimes, we compared them to experimental data from male subjects with Gulf War illness (GWI) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), two complex chronic conditions presenting with endocrine and immune dysregulation. Results indicated that molecular profiles observed experimentally in male GWI and CFS were both distinct from the normal resting state. Profile alignments suggests that regulatory circuitry is largely intact in male GWI and that the persistent immune dysfunction in this illness may at least in part be facilitated by the body’s own homeostatic drive. Conversely the profile for male CFS was distant from all three stable states suggesting the continued influence of an exogenous agent or lasting changes to the regulatory circuitry such as epigenetic alterations.


This work was funded under US Department of Defense (CDMRP program) grant W81XWH-10-1-0774 (GB, PI) and grant W81XWH-09-2-0071 (NK, PI). Additional funding was received from the US National Institutes of Health under grant 1R01AR057853-01A1 (NK, PI), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (Merit Award, NK, PI). This research was conducted in collaboration with and using the resources of the University of Miami Center for Computational Science (CCS). The authors would like to extend special thanks to Dr Joel Zysman, Director of High Performance Computing at the CCS, for his support and many helpful discussions.

PF, TJAC, RMdR, and MAR performed computational simulations and analysis of computational results. PF, TJAC, ALS, VAF, and GB, compiled physiological data and developed the immune-endocrine connectivity network. PF, TJAC, and GB performed comparisons between experimental and computational data and interpreted the results. MAF and NGK collected and analyzed the experimental data. TJAC, RMdR, MAR, GdV, and GB conceived of the discrete logical analysis algorithm. All authors contributed to the drafting of this article, and approve of its contents.



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