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1.  A comprehensive machine-readable view of the mammalian cholesterol biosynthesis pathway 
Biochemical Pharmacology  2013;86(1):56-66.
Graphical abstract
We present the pathways leading to cholesterol, epoxy-cholesterol and oxysterol synthesis.
Cholesterol biosynthesis serves as a central metabolic hub for numerous biological processes in health and disease. A detailed, integrative single-view description of how the cholesterol pathway is structured and how it interacts with other pathway systems is lacking in the existing literature. Here we provide a systematic review of the existing literature and present a detailed pathway diagram that describes the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway (the mevalonate, the Kandutch-Russell and the Bloch pathway) and shunt pathway that leads to 24(S),25-epoxycholesterol synthesis. The diagram has been produced using the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN) and is available in the SBGN-ML format, a human readable and machine semantically parsable open community file format.
PMCID: PMC3912678  PMID: 23583456
Cholesterol; Sterol; SBGN; Metabolic network; Pathway map
2.  A model of flux regulation in the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway: Immune mediated graduated flux reduction versus statin-like led stepped flux reduction 
Biochimie  2013;95(3):613-621.
The cholesterol biosynthesis pathway has recently been shown to play an important role in the innate immune response to viral infection with host protection occurring through a coordinate down regulation of the enzymes catalysing each metabolic step. In contrast, statin based drugs, which form the principle pharmaceutical agents for decreasing the activity of this pathway, target a single enzyme. Here, we build an ordinary differential equation model of the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway in order to investigate how the two regulatory strategies impact upon the behaviour of the pathway. We employ a modest set of assumptions: that the pathway operates away from saturation, that each metabolite is involved in multiple cellular interactions and that mRNA levels reflect enzyme concentrations. Using data taken from primary bone marrow derived macrophage cells infected with murine cytomegalovirus or treated with IFNγ, we show that, under these assumptions, coordinate down-regulation of enzyme activity imparts a graduated reduction in flux along the pathway. In contrast, modelling a statin-like treatment that achieves the same degree of down-regulation in cholesterol production, we show that this delivers a step change in flux along the pathway. The graduated reduction mediated by physiological coordinate regulation of multiple enzymes supports a mechanism that allows a greater level of specificity, altering cholesterol levels with less impact upon interactions branching from the pathway, than pharmacological step reductions. We argue that coordinate regulation is likely to show a long-term evolutionary advantage over single enzyme regulation. Finally, the results from our models have implications for future pharmaceutical therapies intended to target cholesterol production with greater specificity and fewer off target effects, suggesting that this can be achieved by mimicking the coordinated down-regulation observed in immunological responses.
Graphical abstract
► We model the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway and its regulation. ► The innate immune response leads to a suppression of flux through the pathway. ► Statin inhibitors show a different mode of suppression to the immune response. ► Statin inhibitor suppression is less robust and less specific than immune suppression.
PMCID: PMC3585962  PMID: 22664637
Cholesterol; Systems biology; Regulation; Anti-viral; Statin
3.  The Transcription Factor STAT-1 Couples Macrophage Synthesis of 25-Hydroxycholesterol to the Interferon Antiviral Response 
Immunity  2013;38(1):106-118.
Recent studies suggest that the sterol metabolic network participates in the interferon (IFN) antiviral response. However, the molecular mechanisms linking IFN with the sterol network and the identity of sterol mediators remain unknown. Here we report a cellular antiviral role for macrophage production of 25-hydroxycholesterol (cholest-5-en-3β,25-diol, 25HC) as a component of the sterol metabolic network linked to the IFN response via Stat1. By utilizing quantitative metabolome profiling of all naturally occurring oxysterols upon infection or IFN-stimulation, we reveal 25HC as the only macrophage-synthesized and -secreted oxysterol. We show that 25HC can act at multiple levels as a potent paracrine inhibitor of viral infection for a broad range of viruses. We also demonstrate, using transcriptional regulatory-network analyses, genetic interventions and chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments that Stat1 directly coupled Ch25h regulation to IFN in macrophages. Our studies describe a physiological role for 25HC as a sterol-lipid effector of an innate immune pathway.
Graphical Abstract
► Macrophage PRR sensing of virus or IFN activation induce 25HC synthesis and secretion ► Stat1 rapidly binds and activates the promoter of cholesterol-25-hydroxylase (Ch25h) ► 25HC exerts multilevel antiviral function for a range of different viruses ► 25HC is an intrinsic paracrine and autocrine effector of the IFN antiviral response
PMCID: PMC3556782  PMID: 23273843
5.  Digital clocks: simple Boolean models can quantitatively describe circadian systems 
The gene networks that comprise the circadian clock modulate biological function across a range of scales, from gene expression to performance and adaptive behaviour. The clock functions by generating endogenous rhythms that can be entrained to the external 24-h day–night cycle, enabling organisms to optimally time biochemical processes relative to dawn and dusk. In recent years, computational models based on differential equations have become useful tools for dissecting and quantifying the complex regulatory relationships underlying the clock's oscillatory dynamics. However, optimizing the large parameter sets characteristic of these models places intense demands on both computational and experimental resources, limiting the scope of in silico studies. Here, we develop an approach based on Boolean logic that dramatically reduces the parametrization, making the state and parameter spaces finite and tractable. We introduce efficient methods for fitting Boolean models to molecular data, successfully demonstrating their application to synthetic time courses generated by a number of established clock models, as well as experimental expression levels measured using luciferase imaging. Our results indicate that despite their relative simplicity, logic models can (i) simulate circadian oscillations with the correct, experimentally observed phase relationships among genes and (ii) flexibly entrain to light stimuli, reproducing the complex responses to variations in daylength generated by more detailed differential equation formulations. Our work also demonstrates that logic models have sufficient predictive power to identify optimal regulatory structures from experimental data. By presenting the first Boolean models of circadian circuits together with general techniques for their optimization, we hope to establish a new framework for the systematic modelling of more complex clocks, as well as other circuits with different qualitative dynamics. In particular, we anticipate that the ability of logic models to provide a computationally efficient representation of system behaviour could greatly facilitate the reverse-engineering of large-scale biochemical networks.
PMCID: PMC3405750  PMID: 22499125
systems biology; circadian gene networks; Boolean logic; photoperiodism; Arabidopsis thaliana
6.  The in silico macrophage: toward a better understanding of inflammatory disease 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(1):4.
Macrophages function as sentinel, cell-regulatory 'hubs' capable of initiating, perpetuating and contributing to the resolution of an inflammatory response, following their activation from a resting state. Highly complex and varied gene expression programs within the macrophage enable such functional diversity. To investigate how programs of gene expression relate to the phenotypic attributes of the macrophage, the development of in silico modeling methods is needed. Such models need to cover multiple scales, from molecular pathways in cell-autonomous immunity and intercellular communication pathways in tissue inflammation to whole organism response pathways in systemic disease. Here, we highlight the potential of in silico macrophage modeling as an amenable and important yet under-exploited tool in aiding in our understanding of the immune inflammatory response. We also discuss how in silico macrophage modeling can help in future therapeutic strategies for modulating both the acute protective effects of inflammation (such as host defense and tissue repair) and the harmful chronic effects (such as autoimmune diseases).
PMCID: PMC3092089  PMID: 21349141
7.  Host Defense against Viral Infection Involves Interferon Mediated Down-Regulation of Sterol Biosynthesis 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(3):e1000598.
Upon infection, our immune cells produce a small protein called interferon, which in turn signals a protective response through a series of biochemical reactions that involves lowering the cells' ability to make cholesterol by targeting a gene essential for controlling the pathway for cholesterol metabolism.
Little is known about the protective role of inflammatory processes in modulating lipid metabolism in infection. Here we report an intimate link between the innate immune response to infection and regulation of the sterol metabolic network characterized by down-regulation of sterol biosynthesis by an interferon regulatory loop mechanism. In time-series experiments profiling genome-wide lipid-associated gene expression of macrophages, we show a selective and coordinated negative regulation of the complete sterol pathway upon viral infection or cytokine treatment with IFNγ or β but not TNF, IL1β, or IL6. Quantitative analysis at the protein level of selected sterol metabolic enzymes upon infection shows a similar level of suppression. Experimental testing of sterol metabolite levels using lipidomic-based measurements shows a reduction in metabolic output. On the basis of pharmacologic and RNAi inhibition of the sterol pathway we show augmented protection against viral infection, and in combination with metabolite rescue experiments, we identify the requirement of the mevalonate-isoprenoid branch of the sterol metabolic network in the protective response upon statin or IFNβ treatment. Conditioned media experiments from infected cells support an involvement of secreted type 1 interferon(s) to be sufficient for reducing the sterol pathway upon infection. Moreover, we show that infection of primary macrophages containing a genetic knockout of the major type I interferon, IFNβ, leads to only a partial suppression of the sterol pathway, while genetic knockout of the receptor for all type I interferon family members, ifnar1, or associated signaling component, tyk2, completely abolishes the reduction of the sterol biosynthetic activity upon infection. Levels of the proteolytically cleaved nuclear forms of SREBP2, a key transcriptional regulator of sterol biosynthesis, are reduced upon infection and IFNβ treatment at both the protein and de novo transcription level. The reduction in srebf2 gene transcription upon infection and IFN treatment is also found to be strictly dependent on ifnar1. Altogether these results show that type 1 IFN signaling is both necessary and sufficient for reducing the sterol metabolic network activity upon infection, thereby linking the regulation of the sterol pathway with interferon anti-viral defense responses. These findings bring a new link between sterol metabolism and interferon antiviral response and support the idea of using host metabolic modifiers of innate immunity as a potential antiviral strategy.
Author Summary
Currently, little is known about the crosstalk between the body's immune and metabolic systems that occurs after viral infection. This work uncovers a previously unappreciated physiological role for the cholesterol-metabolic pathway in protecting against infection that involves a molecular link with the protein interferon, which is made by immune cells and known to “interfere” with viral replication. We used a clinically relevant model based on mouse cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection of bone-marrow-derived cells. Upon infection these cells produce high levels of interferon as part of the innate-immune response, which we show in turn signals through the interferon receptor resulting in lowering enzyme levels on the cholesterol pathway. We observed this effect with a range of other viruses, and in each case it leads to a notable drop in the metabolites involved in the cholesterol pathway. We found that the control mechanism involves regulation by interferon of an essential transcription factor, named SREBP-2, which coordinates the gene activity of the cholesterol pathway. This mechanism may explain clinical observations of reduced cholesterol levels in patients receiving interferon treatment. Our initial investigation into how lowered cholesterol might protect against viral infection reveals that the protection is not due to a requirement of the virus for cholesterol itself but instead involves a particular side-branch of the pathway that chemically links lipids to proteins. Drugs such as statins and small interfering RNAs that block this part of the pathway are also shown to protect against CMV infection of cells in culture and in mice. This provides the first example of targeting a host metabolic pathway in order to protect against an acute infection.
PMCID: PMC3050939  PMID: 21408089
8.  Construction of a large scale integrated map of macrophage pathogen recognition and effector systems 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:63.
In an effort to better understand the molecular networks that underpin macrophage activation we have been assembling a map of relevant pathways. Manual curation of the published literature was carried out in order to define the components of these pathways and the interactions between them. This information has been assembled into a large integrated directional network and represented graphically using the modified Edinburgh Pathway Notation (mEPN) scheme.
The diagram includes detailed views of the toll-like receptor (TLR) pathways, other pathogen recognition systems, NF-kappa-B, apoptosis, interferon signalling, MAP-kinase cascades, MHC antigen presentation and proteasome assembly, as well as selected views of the transcriptional networks they regulate. The integrated pathway includes a total of 496 unique proteins, the complexes formed between them and the processes in which they are involved. This produces a network of 2,170 nodes connected by 2,553 edges.
The pathway diagram is a navigable visual aid for displaying a consensus view of the pathway information available for these systems. It is also a valuable resource for computational modelling and aid in the interpretation of functional genomics data. We envisage that this work will be of value to those interested in macrophage biology and also contribute to the ongoing Systems Biology community effort to develop a standard notation scheme for the graphical representation of biological pathways.
PMCID: PMC2892459  PMID: 20470404

Results 1-8 (8)