An integrative systems biology view of host-pathogen interactions: The regulation of immunity and homeostasis is concomitant, flexible, and smart

Zvi Grossman*, Andreas Meyerhans*, Gennady Bocharov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The systemic bio-organization of humans and other mammals is essentially “preprogrammed”, and the basic interacting units, the cells, can be crudely mapped into discrete sets of developmental lineages and maturation states. Over several decades, however, and focusing on the immune system, we and others invoked evidence – now overwhelming – suggesting dynamic acquisition of cellular properties and functions, through tuning, re-networking, chromatin remodeling, and adaptive differentiation. The genetically encoded “algorithms” that govern the integration of signals and the computation of new states are not fully understood but are believed to be “smart”, designed to enable the cells and the system to discriminate meaningful perturbations from each other and from “noise”. Cellular sensory and response properties are shaped in part by recurring temporal patterns, or features, of the signaling environment. We compared this phenomenon to associative brain learning. We proposed that interactive cell learning is subject to selective pressures geared to performance, allowing the response of immune cells to injury or infection to be progressively coordinated with that of other cell types across tissues and organs. This in turn is comparable to supervised brain learning. Guided by feedback from both the tissue itself and the neural system, resident or recruited antigen-specific and innate immune cells can eradicate a pathogen while simultaneously sustaining functional homeostasis. As informative memories of immune responses are imprinted both systemically and within the targeted tissues, it is desirable to enhance tissue preparedness by incorporating attenuated-pathogen vaccines and informed choice of tissue-centered immunomodulators in vaccination schemes. Fortunately, much of the “training” that a living system requires to survive and function in the face of disturbances from outside or within is already incorporated into its design, so it does not need to deep-learn how to face a new challenge each time from scratch. Instead, the system learns from experience how to efficiently select a built-in strategy, or a combination of those, and can then use tuning to refine its organization and responses. Efforts to identify and therapeutically augment such strategies can take advantage of existing integrative modeling approaches. One recently explored strategy is boosting the flux of uninfected cells into and throughout an infected tissue to rinse and replace the infected cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1061290
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
StatePublished - 24 Jan 2023


FundersFunder number
Ministerio de Ciencia e InnovaciónCEX2018-000792-M, PID2019-106323RB-I00 AEI//10.13039/501100011033
Russian Science Foundation18-11-00171


    • adaptive differentiation
    • cellular and cell population learning
    • context discrimination
    • functional homeostasis
    • rinse and replace
    • smart surveillance
    • systems immunology
    • tuning


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