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1.  Anti-inflammatory effects of reactive oxygen species – a multi-valued logical model validated by formal concept analysis 
BMC Systems Biology  2014;8(1):101.
Recent findings suggest that in pancreatic acinar cells stimulated with bile acid, a pro-apoptotic effect of reactive oxygen species (ROS) dominates their effect on necrosis and spreading of inflammation. The first effect presumably occurs via cytochrome C release from the inner mitochondrial membrane. A pro-necrotic effect – similar to the one of Ca2+ – can be strong opening of mitochondrial pores leading to breakdown of the membrane potential, ATP depletion, sustained Ca2+ increase and premature activation of digestive enzymes. To explain published data and to understand ROS effects during the onset of acute pancreatitis, a model using multi-valued logic is constructed. Formal concept analysis (FCA) is used to validate the model against data as well as to analyze and visualize rules that capture the dynamics.
Simulations for two different levels of bile stimulation and for inhibition or addition of antioxidants reproduce the qualitative behaviour shown in the experiments. Based on reported differences of ROS production and of ROS induced pore opening, the model predicts a more uniform apoptosis/necrosis ratio for higher and lower bile stimulation in liver cells than in pancreatic acinar cells. FCA confirms that essential dynamical features of the data are captured by the model. For instance, high necrosis always occurs together with at least a medium level of apoptosis. At the same time, FCA helps to reveal subtle differences between data and simulations. The FCA visualization underlines the protective role of ROS against necrosis.
The analysis of the model demonstrates how ROS and decreased antioxidant levels contribute to apoptosis. Studying the induction of necrosis via a sustained Ca2+ increase, we implemented the commonly accepted hypothesis of ATP depletion after strong bile stimulation. Using an alternative model, we demonstrate that this process is not necessary to generate the dynamics of the measured variables. Opening of plasma membrane channels could also lead to a prolonged increase of Ca2+ and to necrosis. Finally, the analysis of the model suggests a direct experimental testing for the model-based hypothesis of a self-enhancing cycle of cytochrome C release and ROS production by interruption of the mitochondrial electron transport chain.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12918-014-0101-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4229622  PMID: 25315877
Acute pancreatitis; Mitochondria; Reactive oxygen species; Calcium; Multi-valued logic; Formal concept analysis; Apoptosis; Necrosis
2.  The role of dynamic stimulation pattern in the analysis of bistable intracellular networks 
Bio Systems  2008;92(3):270-281.
Bistable systems play an important role in the functioning of living cells. Depending on the strength of the necessary positive feedback one can distinguish between (irreversible) “one-way switch” or (reversible) “toggle-switch” type behavior. Besides the well established steady state properties, some important characteristics of bistable systems arise from an analysis of their dynamics. We demonstrate that a supercritical stimulus amplitude is not sufficient to move the system from the lower (off-state) to the higher branch (on-state) for either a step or a pulse input. A switching surface is identified for the system as a function of the initial condition, input pulse amplitude and duration (a supercritical signal). We introduce the concept of bounded autonomy for single level systems with a pulse input. Towards this end, we investigate and characterize the role of the duration of the stimulus. Furthermore we show, that a minimal signal power is also necessary to change the steady state of the bistable system. This limiting signal power is independent of the applied stimulus and is determined only by systems parameters. These results are relevant for the design of experiments, where it is often difficult to create a defined pattern for the stimulus. Furthermore, intracellular processes, like receptor internalization, do manipulate the level of stimulus such that level and duration of the stimulus is conducive to characteristic behavior.
PMCID: PMC4143782  PMID: 18474306
Systems biology; cell signalling; multistability; transient behavior; bounded autonomy
3.  Inbred mouse strains reveal biomarkers that are pro-longevity, antilongevity or role switching 
Aging Cell  2014;13(4):729-738.
Traditionally, biomarkers of aging are classified as either pro-longevity or antilongevity. Using longitudinal data sets from the large-scale inbred mouse strain study at the Jackson Laboratory Nathan Shock Center, we describe a protocol to identify two kinds of biomarkers: those with prognostic implication for lifespan and those with longitudinal evidence. Our protocol also identifies biomarkers for which, at first sight, there is conflicting evidence. Conflict resolution is possible by postulating a role switch. In these cases, high biomarker values are, for example, antilongevity in early life and pro-longevity in later life. Role-switching biomarkers correspond to features that must, for example, be minimized early, but maximized later, for optimal longevity. The clear-cut pro-longevity biomarkers we found reflect anti-inflammatory, anti-immunosenescent or anti-anaemic mechanisms, whereas clear-cut antilongevity biomarkers reflect inflammatory mechanisms. Many highly significant blood biomarkers relate to immune system features, indicating a shift from adaptive to innate processes, whereas most role-switching biomarkers relate to blood serum features and whole-body phenotypes. Our biomarker classification approach is applicable to any combination of longitudinal studies with life expectancy data, and it provides insights beyond a simplified scheme of biomarkers for long or short lifespan.
PMCID: PMC4326954  PMID: 24862908
aging; anti-aging; inflammation; lifespan; longevity; mice; senescence
4.  Cooperative gene regulation by microRNA pairs and their identification using a computational workflow 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(12):7539-7552.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are an integral part of gene regulation at the post-transcriptional level. Recently, it has been shown that pairs of miRNAs can repress the translation of a target mRNA in a cooperative manner, which leads to an enhanced effectiveness and specificity in target repression. However, it remains unclear which miRNA pairs can synergize and which genes are target of cooperative miRNA regulation. In this paper, we present a computational workflow for the prediction and analysis of cooperating miRNAs and their mutual target genes, which we refer to as RNA triplexes. The workflow integrates methods of miRNA target prediction; triplex structure analysis; molecular dynamics simulations and mathematical modeling for a reliable prediction of functional RNA triplexes and target repression efficiency. In a case study we analyzed the human genome and identified several thousand targets of cooperative gene regulation. Our results suggest that miRNA cooperativity is a frequent mechanism for an enhanced target repression by pairs of miRNAs facilitating distinctive and fine-tuned target gene expression patterns. Human RNA triplexes predicted and characterized in this study are organized in a web resource at
PMCID: PMC4081082  PMID: 24875477
5.  Age-Dependent Effects of UCP2 Deficiency on Experimental Acute Pancreatitis in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94494.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis (AP) for many years but experimental evidence is still limited. Uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2)-deficient mice are an accepted model of age-related oxidative stress. Here, we have analysed how UCP2 deficiency affects the severity of experimental AP in young and older mice (3 and 12 months old, respectively) triggered by up to 7 injections of the secretagogue cerulein (50 μg/kg body weight) at hourly intervals. Disease severity was assessed at time points from 3 hours to 7 days based on pancreatic histopathology, serum levels of alpha-amylase, intrapancreatic trypsin activation and levels of myeloperoxidase (MPO) in lung and pancreatic tissue. Furthermore, in vitro studies with pancreatic acini were performed. At an age of 3 months, UCP2-/- mice and wild-type (WT) C57BL/6 mice were virtually indistinguishable with respect to disease severity. In contrast, 12 months old UCP2-/- mice developed a more severe pancreatic damage than WT mice at late time points after the induction of AP (24 h and 7 days, respectively), suggesting retarded regeneration. Furthermore, a higher peak level of alpha-amylase activity and gradually increased MPO levels in pancreatic and lung tissue were observed in UCP2-/- mice. Interestingly, intrapancreatic trypsin activities (in vivo studies) and intraacinar trypsin and elastase activation in response to cerulein treatment (in vitro studies) were not enhanced but even diminished in the knockout strain. Finally, UCP2-/- mice displayed a diminished ratio of reduced and oxidized glutathione in serum but no increased ROS levels in pancreatic acini. Together, our data indicate an aggravating effect of UCP2 deficiency on the severity of experimental AP in older but not in young mice. We suggest that increased severity of AP in 12 months old UCP2-/- is caused by an imbalanced inflammatory response but is unrelated to acinar cell functions.
PMCID: PMC3983280  PMID: 24721982
6.  Why model? 
Next generation sequencing technologies are bringing about a renaissance of mining approaches. A comprehensive picture of the genetic landscape of an individual patient will be useful, for example, to identify groups of patients that do or do not respond to certain therapies. The high expectations may however not be satisfied if the number of patient groups with similar characteristics is going to be very large. I therefore doubt that mining sequence data will give us an understanding of why and when therapies work. For understanding the mechanisms underlying diseases, an alternative approach is to model small networks in quantitative mechanistic detail, to elucidate the role of gene and proteins in dynamically changing the functioning of cells. Here an obvious critique is that these models consider too few components, compared to what might be relevant for any particular cell function. I show here that mining approaches and dynamical systems theory are two ends of a spectrum of methodologies to choose from. Drawing upon personal experience in numerous interdisciplinary collaborations, I provide guidance on how to model by discussing the question “Why model?”
PMCID: PMC3904180  PMID: 24478728
systems biology; systems medicine; mathematical modeling; cell biology
7.  The role of theory and modeling in medical research 
PMCID: PMC3867684  PMID: 24391594
systems biology; mathematical modeling; theory; systems medicine; medicine
8.  A Systems' Biology Approach to Study MicroRNA-Mediated Gene Regulatory Networks 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:703849.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are potent effectors in gene regulatory networks where aberrant miRNA expression can contribute to human diseases such as cancer. For a better understanding of the regulatory role of miRNAs in coordinating gene expression, we here present a systems biology approach combining data-driven modeling and model-driven experiments. Such an approach is characterized by an iterative process, including biological data acquisition and integration, network construction, mathematical modeling and experimental validation. To demonstrate the application of this approach, we adopt it to investigate mechanisms of collective repression on p21 by multiple miRNAs. We first construct a p21 regulatory network based on data from the literature and further expand it using algorithms that predict molecular interactions. Based on the network structure, a detailed mechanistic model is established and its parameter values are determined using data. Finally, the calibrated model is used to study the effect of different miRNA expression profiles and cooperative target regulation on p21 expression levels in different biological contexts.
PMCID: PMC3848080  PMID: 24350286
9.  Integrative modelling of pH-dependent enzyme activity and transcriptomic regulation of the acetone–butanol–ethanol fermentation of Clostridium acetobutylicum in continuous culture 
Microbial Biotechnology  2013;6(5):526-539.
In a continuous culture under phosphate limitation the metabolism of Clostridium acetobutylicum depends on the external pH level. By comparing seven steady-state conditions between pH 5.7 and pH 4.5 we show that the switch from acidogenesis to solventogenesis occurs between pH 5.3 and pH 5.0 with an intermediate state at pH 5.1. Here, an integrative study is presented investigating how a changing external pH level affects the clostridial acetone–butanol–ethanol (ABE) fermentation pathway. This is of particular interest as the biotechnological production of n-butanol as biofuel has recently returned into the focus of industrial applications. One prerequisite is the furthering of the knowledge of the factors determining the solvent production and their integrative regulations. We have mathematically analysed the influence of pH-dependent specific enzyme activities of branch points of the metabolism on the product formation. This kinetic regulation was compared with transcriptomic regulation regarding gene transcription and the proteomic profile. Furthermore, both regulatory mechanisms were combined yielding a detailed projection of their individual and joint effects on the product formation. The resulting model represents an important platform for future developments of industrial butanol production based on C. acetobutylicum.
PMCID: PMC3918155  PMID: 23332010
10.  Phosphoglycerate Mutases Function as Reverse Regulated Isoenzymes in Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58281.
Phosphoglycerate-mutase (PGM) is an ubiquitous glycolytic enzyme, which in eukaryotic cells can be found in different compartments. In prokaryotic cells, several PGMs are annotated/localized in one compartment. The identification and functional characterization of PGMs in prokaryotes is therefore important for better understanding of metabolic regulation. Here we introduce a method, based on a multi-level kinetic model of the primary carbon metabolism in cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942, that allows the identification of a specific function for a particular PGM. The strategy employs multiple parameter estimation runs in high CO2, combined with simulations testing a broad range of kinetic parameters against the changes in transcript levels of annotated PGMs. Simulations are evaluated for a match in metabolic level in low CO2, to reveal trends that can be linked to the function of a particular PGM. A one-isoenzyme scenario shows that PGM2 is a major regulator of glycolysis, while PGM1 and PGM4 make the system robust against environmental changes. Strikingly, combining two PGMs with reverse transcriptional regulation allows both features. A conclusion arising from our analysis is that a two-enzyme PGM system is required to regulate the flux between glycolysis and the Calvin-Benson cycle, while an additional PGM increases the robustness of the system.
PMCID: PMC3590821  PMID: 23484009
11.  Simulations of stressosome activation emphasize allosteric interactions between RsbR and RsbT 
The stressosome is a bacterial signalling complex that responds to environmental changes by initiating a protein partner switching cascade, which leads to the release of the alternative sigma factor, σB. Stress perception increases the phosphorylation of the stressosome sensor protein, RsbR, and the scaffold protein, RsbS, by the protein kinase, RsbT. Subsequent dissociation of RsbT from the stressosome activates the σB cascade. However, the sequence of physical events that occur in the stressosome during signal transduction is insufficiently understood.
Here, we use computational modelling to correlate the structure of the stressosome with the efficiency of the phosphorylation reactions that occur upon activation by stress. In our model, the phosphorylation of any stressosome protein is dependent upon its nearest neighbours and their phosphorylation status. We compare different hypotheses about stressosome activation and find that only the model representing the allosteric activation of the kinase RsbT, by phosphorylated RsbR, qualitatively reproduces the experimental data.
Our simulations and the associated analysis of published data support the following hypotheses: (i) a simple Boolean model is capable of reproducing stressosome dynamics, (ii) different stressors induce identical stressosome activation patterns, and we also confirm that (i) phosphorylated RsbR activates RsbT, and (ii) the main purpose of RsbX is to dephosphorylate RsbS-P.
PMCID: PMC3556497  PMID: 23320651
Bacillus subtilis; Stressosome; Signalling; Cellular automaton; Stress response
12.  Parameter Identifiability and Sensitivity Analysis Predict Targets for Enhancement of STAT1 Activity in Pancreatic Cancer and Stellate Cells 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(12):e1002815.
The present work exemplifies how parameter identifiability analysis can be used to gain insights into differences in experimental systems and how uncertainty in parameter estimates can be handled. The case study, presented here, investigates interferon-gamma (IFNγ) induced STAT1 signalling in two cell types that play a key role in pancreatic cancer development: pancreatic stellate and cancer cells. IFNγ inhibits the growth for both types of cells and may be prototypic of agents that simultaneously hit cancer and stroma cells. We combined time-course experiments with mathematical modelling to focus on the common situation in which variations between profiles of experimental time series, from different cell types, are observed. To understand how biochemical reactions are causing the observed variations, we performed a parameter identifiability analysis. We successfully identified reactions that differ in pancreatic stellate cells and cancer cells, by comparing confidence intervals of parameter value estimates and the variability of model trajectories. Our analysis shows that useful information can also be obtained from nonidentifiable parameters. For the prediction of potential therapeutic targets we studied the consequences of uncertainty in the values of identifiable and nonidentifiable parameters. Interestingly, the sensitivity of model variables is robust against parameter variations and against differences between IFNγ induced STAT1 signalling in pancreatic stellate and cancer cells. This provides the basis for a prediction of therapeutic targets that are valid for both cell types.
Author Summary
For the prediction of therapeutic targets and the design of therapies, it is important to study the same pathway across different cell types. This is particularly relevant for cancer research, where several cell types are involved in carcinogenesis. Pancreatic cancer is enhanced by activated pancreatic stellate cells. It would thus seem plausible for an effective therapy to hit stellate and cancer cells. The cytokine IFNγ is an inhibitor of proliferation in both cell types. Antiproliferative effects of IFNγ are mediated by STAT1 signalling. An important aspect is to determine those reactions that cause the differences in the initial increase of phosphorylated STAT1 and in the temporal profile of STAT1 nuclear accumulation between the two cell types. We examined this aspect by performing a parameter identifiability analysis for calibrated mathematical models. We calculated confidence intervals of the estimated parameter values and found that they provide insights into reactions underlying the differences. A key finding of sensitivity analysis elucidated that predicted targets for enhancement of STAT1 activity are robust against parameter uncertainty and moreover they are robust between the two cell types. Our case study therefore exemplified how identifiability and sensitivity analysis can provide a basis for the prediction of potential therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC3527226  PMID: 23284277
13.  Insights into erlotinib action in pancreatic cancer cells using a combined experimental and mathematical approach 
AIM: To gain insights into the molecular action of erlotinib in pancreatic cancer (PC) cells.
METHODS: Two PC cell lines, BxPC-3 and Capan-1, were treated with various concentrations of erlotinib, the specific mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) inhibitor U0126, and protein kinase B (AKT) inhibitor XIV. DNA synthesis was measured by 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) assays. Expression and phosphorylation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and downstream signaling molecules were quantified by Western blot analysis. The data were processed to calibrate a mathematical model, based on ordinary differential equations, describing the EGFR-mediated signal transduction.
RESULTS: Erlotinib significantly inhibited BrdU incorporation in BxPC-3 cells at a concentration of 1 μmol/L, whereas Capan-1 cells were much more resistant. In both cell lines, MEK inhibitor U0126 and erlotinib attenuated DNA synthesis in a cumulative manner, whereas the AKT pathway-specific inhibitor did not enhance the effects of erlotinib. While basal phosphorylation of EGFR and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) did not differ much between the two cell lines, BxPC-3 cells displayed a more than five-times higher basal phospho-AKT level than Capan-1 cells. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) at 10 ng/mL induced the phosphorylation of EGFR, AKT and ERK in both cell lines with similar kinetics. In BxPC-3 cells, higher levels of phospho-AKT and phospho-ERK (normalized to the total protein levels) were observed. Independent of the cell line, erlotinib efficiently inhibited phosphorylation of EGFR, AKT and ERK. The mathematical model successfully simulated the experimental findings and provided predictions regarding phosphoprotein levels that could be verified experimentally.
CONCLUSION: Our data suggest basal AKT phosphorylation and the degree of EGF-induced activation of AKT and ERK as molecular determinants of erlotinib efficiency in PC cells.
PMCID: PMC3501770  PMID: 23180942
Erlotinib; Pancreatic cancer; Epidermal growth factor receptor; Signal transduction; Mathematical modeling
14.  Computational analysis of target hub gene repression regulated by multiple and cooperative miRNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(18):8818-8834.
MicroRNA (miRNA) target hubs are genes that can be simultaneously targeted by a comparatively large number of miRNAs, a class of non-coding RNAs that mediate post-transcriptional gene repression. Although the details of target hub regulation remain poorly understood, recent experiments suggest that pairs of miRNAs can cooperate if their binding sites reside in close proximity. To test this and other hypotheses, we established a novel approach to investigate mechanisms of collective miRNA repression. The approach presented here combines miRNA target prediction and transcription factor prediction with data from the literature and databases to generate a regulatory map for a chosen target hub. We then show how a kinetic model can be derived from the regulatory map. To validate our approach, we present a case study for p21, one of the first experimentally proved miRNA target hubs. Our analysis indicates that distinctive expression patterns for miRNAs, some of which interact cooperatively, fine-tune the features of transient and long-term regulation of target genes. With respect to p21, our model successfully predicts its protein levels for nine different cellular functions. In addition, we find that high abundance of miRNAs, in combination with cooperativity, can enhance noise buffering for the transcription of target hubs.
PMCID: PMC3467055  PMID: 22798498
15.  Multi-compartmental modeling of SORLA’s influence on amyloidogenic processing in Alzheimer’s disease 
BMC Systems Biology  2012;6:74.
Proteolytic breakdown of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) by secretases is a complex cellular process that results in formation of neurotoxic Aβ peptides, causative of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Processing involves monomeric and dimeric forms of APP that traffic through distinct cellular compartments where the various secretases reside. Amyloidogenic processing is also influenced by modifiers such as sorting receptor-related protein (SORLA), an inhibitor of APP breakdown and major AD risk factor.
In this study, we developed a multi-compartment model to simulate the complexity of APP processing in neurons and to accurately describe the effects of SORLA on these processes. Based on dose–response data, our study concludes that SORLA specifically impairs processing of APP dimers, the preferred secretase substrate. In addition, SORLA alters the dynamic behavior of β-secretase, the enzyme responsible for the initial step in the amyloidogenic processing cascade.
Our multi-compartment model represents a major conceptual advance over single-compartment models previously used to simulate APP processing; and it identified APP dimers and β-secretase as the two distinct targets of the inhibitory action of SORLA in Alzheimer’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3483162  PMID: 22727043
Amyloidogenic processing; Compartmental modeling; LR11; Secretases; SORL1; VPS10P domain receptors
16.  Dynamic energy budget approaches for modelling organismal ageing 
Ageing is a complex multifactorial process involving a progressive physiological decline that, ultimately, leads to the death of an organism. It involves multiple changes in many components that play fundamental roles under healthy and pathological conditions. Simultaneously, every organism undergoes accumulative ‘wear and tear’ during its lifespan, which confounds the effects of the ageing process. The scenario is complicated even further by the presence of both age-dependent and age-independent competing causes of death. Various manipulations have been shown to interfere with the ageing process. Calorie restriction, for example, has been reported to increase the lifespan of a wide range of organisms, which suggests a strong relation between energy metabolism and ageing. Such a link is also supported within the main theories for ageing: the free radical hypothesis, for instance, links oxidative damage production directly to energy metabolism. The Dynamic Energy Budgets (DEB) theory, which characterizes the uptake and use of energy by living organisms, therefore constitutes a useful tool for gaining insight into the ageing process. Here we compare the existing DEB-based modelling approaches and, then, discuss how new biological evidence could be incorporated within a DEB framework.
PMCID: PMC2981969  PMID: 20921044
metabolism; senescence; whole-body energetics; calorie restriction, systems biology
17.  Modeling the Calvin-Benson cycle 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:185.
Modeling the Calvin-Benson cycle has a history in the field of theoretical biology. Anyone who intends to model this system will look at existing models to adapt, refine and improve them. With the goal to study the regulation of carbon metabolism, we investigated a broad range of relevant models for their suitability to provide the basis for further modeling efforts. Beyond a critical analysis of existing models, we furthermore investigated the question how adjacent metabolic pathways, for instance photorespiration, can be integrated in such models.
Our analysis reveals serious problems with a range of models that are publicly available and widely used. The problems include the irreproducibility of the published results or significant differences between the equations in the published description of the model and model itself in the supplementary material. In addition to and based on the discussion of existing models, we furthermore analyzed approaches in PGA sink implementation and confirmed a weak relationship between the level of its regulation and efficiency of PGA export, in contrast to significant changes in the content of metabolic pool within the Calvin-Benson cycle.
In our study we show that the existing models that have been investigated are not suitable for reuse without substantial modifications. We furthermore show that the minor adjacent pathways of the carbon metabolism, neglected in all kinetic models of Calvin-Benson cycle, cannot be substituted without consequences in the mass production dynamics. We further show that photorespiration or at least its first step (O2 fixation) has to be implemented in the model if this model is aimed for analyses out of the steady state.
PMCID: PMC3257313  PMID: 22051069
18.  Systems medicine and integrated care to combat chronic noncommunicable diseases 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(7):43.
We propose an innovative, integrated, cost-effective health system to combat major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular, chronic respiratory, metabolic, rheumatologic and neurologic disorders and cancers, which together are the predominant health problem of the 21st century. This proposed holistic strategy involves comprehensive patient-centered integrated care and multi-scale, multi-modal and multi-level systems approaches to tackle NCDs as a common group of diseases. Rather than studying each disease individually, it will take into account their intertwined gene-environment, socio-economic interactions and co-morbidities that lead to individual-specific complex phenotypes. It will implement a road map for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4) medicine based on a robust and extensive knowledge management infrastructure that contains individual patient information. It will be supported by strategic partnerships involving all stakeholders, including general practitioners associated with patient-centered care. This systems medicine strategy, which will take a holistic approach to disease, is designed to allow the results to be used globally, taking into account the needs and specificities of local economies and health systems.
PMCID: PMC3221551  PMID: 21745417
19.  Advanced significance analysis of microarray data based on weighted resampling: a comparative study and application to gene deletions in Mycobacterium bovis 
Bioinformatics (Oxford, England)  2004;20(3):357-363.
When analyzing microarray data, non-biological variation introduces uncertainty in the analysis and interpretation. In this paper we focus on the validation of significant differences in gene expression levels, or normalized channel intensity levels with respect to different experimental conditions and with replicated measurements. A myriad of methods have been proposed to study differences in gene expression levels and to assign significance values as a measure of confidence. In this paper we compare several methods, including SAM, regularized t-test, mixture modeling, Wilk’s lambda score and variance stabilization. From this comparison we developed a weighted resampling approach and applied it to gene deletions in Mycobacterium bovis.
We discuss the assumptions, model structure, computational complexity and applicability to microarray data. The results of our study justified the theoretical basis of the weighted resampling approach, which clearly outperforms the others.
Algorithms were implemented using the statistical programming language R and available on the author’s web-page.
PMCID: PMC3128991  PMID: 14960462
21.  Studies on mechanisms of interferon-gamma action in pancreatic cancer using a data-driven and model-based approach 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:13.
Interferon-gamma (IFNγ) is a multifunctional cytokine with antifibrotic and antiproliferative efficiency. We previously found that pancreatic stellate cells (PSC), the main effector cells in cancer-associated fibrosis, are targets of IFNγ action in the pancreas. Applying a combined experimental and computational approach, we have demonstrated a pivotal role of STAT1 in IFNγ signaling in PSC. Using in vivo and in vitro models of pancreatic cancer, we have now studied IFNγ effects on the tumor cells themselves. We hypothesize that IFNγ inhibits tumor progression through two mechanisms, reduction of fibrogenesis and antiproliferative effects on the tumor cells. To elucidate the molecular action of IFNγ, we have established a mathematical model of STAT1 activation and combined experimental studies with computer simulations.
In BALB/c-nu/nu mice, flank tumors composed of DSL-6A/C1 pancreatic cancer cells and PSC grew faster than pure DSL-6A/C1 cell tumors. IFNγ inhibited the growth of both types of tumors to a similar degree. Since the stroma reaction typically reduces the efficiency of therapeutic agents, these data suggested that IFNγ may retain its antitumor efficiency in PSC-containing tumors by targeting the stellate cells. Studies with cocultures of DSL-6A/C1 cells and PSC revealed a modest antiproliferative effect of IFNγ under serum-free conditions. Immunoblot analysis of STAT1 phosphorylation and confocal microscopy studies on the nuclear translocation of STAT1 in DSL-6A/C1 cells suggested that IFNγ-induced activation of the transcription factor was weaker than in PSC. The mathematical model not only reproduced the experimental data, but also underscored the conclusions drawn from the experiments by indicating that a maximum of 1/500 of total STAT1 is located as phosphorylated STAT1 in the nucleus upon IFNγ treatment of the tumor cells.
IFNγ is equally effective in DSL-6A/C1 tumors with and without stellate cells. While its action in the presence of PSC may be explained by inhibition of fibrogenesis, its efficiency in PSC-free tumors is unlikely to be caused by direct effects on the tumor cells alone but may involve inhibitory effects on local stroma cells as well. To gain further insights, we also plan to apply computer simulations to the analysis of tumor growth in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3042009  PMID: 21310022
22.  A systems biology approach to investigate the effect of pH-induced gene regulation on solvent production by Clostridium acetobutylicum in continuous culture 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:10.
Clostridium acetobutylicum is an anaerobic bacterium which is known for its solvent-producing capabilities, namely regarding the bulk chemicals acetone and butanol, the latter being a highly efficient biofuel. For butanol production by C. acetobutylicum to be optimized and exploited on an industrial scale, the effect of pH-induced gene regulation on solvent production by C. acetobutylicum in continuous culture must be understood as fully as possible.
We present an ordinary differential equation model combining the metabolic network governing solvent production with regulation at the genetic level of the enzymes required for this process. Parameterizing the model with experimental data from continuous culture, we demonstrate the influence of pH upon fermentation products: at high pH (pH 5.7) acids are the dominant product while at low pH (pH 4.5) this switches to solvents. Through steady-state analyses of the model we focus our investigations on how alteration in gene expression of C. acetobutylicum could be exploited to increase butanol yield in a continuous culture fermentation.
Incorporating gene regulation into the model of solvent production by C. acetobutylicum enables an accurate representation of the pH-induced switch to solvent production to be obtained and theoretical investigations of possible synthetic-biology approaches to be pursued. Steady-state analyses suggest that, to increase butanol yield, alterations in the expression of single solvent-associated genes are insufficient; a more complex approach targeting two or more genes is required.
PMCID: PMC3037857  PMID: 21247470
23.  A stem cell niche dominance theorem 
Multilevelness is a defining characteristic of complex systems. For example, in the intestinal tissue the epithelial lining is organized into crypts that are maintained by a niche of stem cells. The behavior of the system 'as a whole' is considered to emerge from the functioning and interactions of its parts. What we are seeking here is a conceptual framework to demonstrate how the "fate" of intestinal crypts is an emergent property that inherently arises from the complex yet robust underlying biology of stem cells.
We establish a conceptual framework in which to formalize cross-level principles in the context of tissue organization. To this end we provide a definition for stemness, which is the propensity of a cell lineage to contribute to a tissue fate. We do not consider stemness a property of a cell but link it to the process in which a cell lineage contributes towards tissue (mal)function. We furthermore show that the only logically feasible relationship between the stemness of cell lineages and the emergent fate of their tissue, which satisfies the given criteria, is one of dominance from a particular lineage.
The dominance theorem, conceived and proven in this paper, provides support for the concepts of niche succession and monoclonal conversion in intestinal crypts as bottom-up relations, while crypt fission is postulated to be a top-down principle.
PMCID: PMC3030540  PMID: 21214945
24.  The multikinase inhibitor Sorafenib displays significant antiproliferative effects and induces apoptosis via caspase 3, 7 and PARP in B- and T-lymphoblastic cells 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:560.
Targeted therapy approaches have been successfully introduced into the treatment of several cancers. The multikinase inhibitor Sorafenib has antitumor activity in solid tumors and its effects on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells are still unclear.
ALL cell lines (SEM, RS4;11 and Jurkat) were treated with Sorafenib alone or in combination with cytarabine, doxorubicin or RAD001. Cell count, apoptosis and necrosis rates, cell cycle distribution, protein phosphorylation and metabolic activity were determined.
Sorafenib inhibited the proliferation of ALL cells by cell cycle arrest accompanied by down-regulation of CyclinD3 and CDK4. Furthermore, Sorafenib initiated apoptosis by cleavage of caspases 3, 7 and PARP. Apoptosis and necrosis rates increased significantly with most pronounced effects after 96 h. Antiproliferative effects of Sorafenib were associated with a decreased phosphorylation of Akt (Ser473 and Thr308), FoxO3A (Thr32) and 4EBP-1 (Ser65 and Thr70) as early as 0.5 h after treatment. Synergistic effects were seen when Sorafenib was combined with other cytotoxic drugs or a mTOR inhibitor emphasizing the Sorafenib effect.
Sorafenib displays significant antileukemic activity in vitro by inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Furthermore, it influences PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling in ALL cells.
PMCID: PMC2972283  PMID: 20950443
25.  Non-coding RNA detection methods combined to improve usability, reproducibility and precision 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:491.
Non-coding RNAs gain more attention as their diverse roles in many cellular processes are discovered. At the same time, the need for efficient computational prediction of ncRNAs increases with the pace of sequencing technology. Existing tools are based on various approaches and techniques, but none of them provides a reliable ncRNA detector yet. Consequently, a natural approach is to combine existing tools. Due to a lack of standard input and output formats combination and comparison of existing tools is difficult. Also, for genomic scans they often need to be incorporated in detection workflows using custom scripts, which decreases transparency and reproducibility.
We developed a Java-based framework to integrate existing tools and methods for ncRNA detection. This framework enables users to construct transparent detection workflows and to combine and compare different methods efficiently. We demonstrate the effectiveness of combining detection methods in case studies with the small genomes of Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Streptococcus pyogenes. With the combined method, we gained 10% to 20% precision for sensitivities from 30% to 80%. Further, we investigated Streptococcus pyogenes for novel ncRNAs. Using multiple methods--integrated by our framework--we determined four highly probable candidates. We verified all four candidates experimentally using RT-PCR.
We have created an extensible framework for practical, transparent and reproducible combination and comparison of ncRNA detection methods. We have proven the effectiveness of this approach in tests and by guiding experiments to find new ncRNAs. The software is freely available under the GNU General Public License (GPL), version 3 at along with source code, screen shots, examples and tutorial material.
PMCID: PMC2955705  PMID: 20920260

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