Publications

Abstract (Expand)

Most unicellular organisms live in communities and express different phenotypes. Many efforts have been made to study the population dynamics of such complex communities of cells, coexisting as well-coordinated units. Minimal models based on ordinary differential equations are powerful tools that can help us understand complex phenomena. They represent an appropriate compromise between complexity and tractability; they allow a profound and comprehensive analysis, which is still easy to understand. Evolutionary game theory is another powerful tool that can help us understand the costs and benefits of the decision a particular cell of a unicellular social organism takes when faced with the challenges of the biotic and abiotic environment. This work is a binocular view at the population dynamics of such a community through the objectives of minimal modelling and evolutionary game theory. We test the behaviour of the community of a unicellular social organism at three levels of antibiotic stress. Even in the absence of the antibiotic, spikes in the fraction of resistant cells can be observed indicating the importance of bet hedging. At moderate level of antibiotic stress, we witness cyclic dynamics reminiscent of the renowned rock-paper-scissors game. At a very high level, the resistant type of strategy is the most favourable.

Authors: R. Garde, Jan Ewald, A. T. Kovacs, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 3rd Nov 2020

Journal: Open Biol

Abstract (Expand)

Pathogenic microorganisms entail enormous problems for humans, livestock, and crop plants. A better understanding of the different infection strategies of the pathogens enables us to derive optimal treatments to mitigate infectious diseases or develop vaccinations preventing the occurrence of infections altogether. In this review, we highlight the current trends in mathematical modeling approaches and related methods used for understanding host-pathogen interactions. Since these interactions can be described on vastly different temporal and spatial scales as well as abstraction levels, a variety of computational and mathematical approaches are presented. Particular emphasis is placed on dynamic optimization, game theory, and spatial modeling, as they are attracting more and more interest in systems biology. Furthermore, these approaches are often combined to illuminate the complexities of the interactions between pathogens and their host. We also discuss the phenomena of molecular mimicry and crypsis as well as the interplay between defense and counter defense. As a conclusion, we provide an overview of method characteristics to assist non-experts in their decision for modeling approaches and interdisciplinary understanding.

Authors: Jan Ewald, Patricia Sieber, R. Garde, S. N. Lang, Stefan Schuster, B. Ibrahim

Date Published: 30th Nov 2019

Journal: Cell Mol Life Sci

Abstract (Expand)

Molecular mimicry is the formation of specific molecules by microbial pathogens to avoid recognition and attack by the immune system of the host. Several pathogenic Ascomycota and Zygomycota show such a behaviour by utilizing human complement factor H to hide in the blood stream. We call this type of mimicry molecular crypsis. Such a crypsis can reach a point where the immune system can no longer clearly distinguish between self and non-self cells. Thus, a trade-off between attacking disguised pathogens and erroneously attacking host cells has to be made. Based on signalling theory and protein-interaction modelling, we here present a mathematical model of molecular crypsis of pathogenic fungi using the example of Candida albicans. We tackle the question whether perfect crypsis is feasible, which would imply that protection of human cells by complement factors would be useless. The model identifies pathogen abundance relative to host cell abundance as the predominant factor influencing successful or unsuccessful molecular crypsis. If pathogen cells gain a (locally) quantitative advantage over host cells, even autoreactivity may occur. Our new model enables insights into the mechanisms of candidiasis-induced sepsis and complement-associated autoimmune diseases.

Authors: S. N. Lang, S. Germerodt, C. Glock, Christine Skerka, Peter Zipfel, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 20th Feb 2019

Journal: PLoS One

Abstract (Expand)

Alternative splicing (AS) is an important regulatory mechanism in eukaryotes but only little is known about its impact in fungi. Human fungal pathogens are of high clinical interest causing recurrent or life-threatening infections. AS can be well-investigated genome-wide and quantitatively with the powerful technology of RNA-Seq. Here, we systematically studied AS in human fungal pathogens based on RNA-Seq data. To do so, we investigated its effect in seven fungi during conditions simulating ex vivo infection processes and during in vitro stress. Genes undergoing AS are species-specific and act independently from differentially expressed genes pointing to an independent mechanism to change abundance and functionality. Candida species stand out with a low number of introns with higher and more varying lengths and more alternative splice sites. Moreover, we identified a functional difference between response to host and other stress conditions: During stress, AS affects more genes and is involved in diverse regulatory functions. In contrast, during response-to-host conditions, genes undergoing AS have membrane functionalities and might be involved in the interaction with the host. We assume that AS plays a crucial regulatory role in pathogenic fungi and is important in both response to host and stress conditions.

Authors: Patricia Sieber, Kerstin Voigt, P. Kammer, S. Brunke, Stefan Schuster, Jörg Linde

Date Published: 19th Oct 2018

Journal: Front Microbiol

Abstract (Expand)

As a part of the complement system, factor H regulates phagocytosis and helps differentiate between a body's own and foreign cells. Owing to mimicry efforts, some pathogenic microorganisms such as Candida albicans are able to bind factor H on their cell surfaces and, thus, become similar to host cells. This implies that the decision between self and foreign is not clear-cut, which leads to a classification problem for the immune system. Here, two different alleles determining the binding affinity of factor H are relevant. Those alleles differ in the SNP Y402H; they are known to be associated with susceptibility to certain diseases. Interestingly, the fraction of both alleles differs in ethnic groups. The game-theoretical model proposed in this article explains the coexistence of both alleles by a battle of the sexes game and investigates the trade-off between pathogen detection and protection of host cells. Further, we discuss the ethnicity-dependent frequencies of the alleles. Moreover, the model elucidates the mimicry efforts by pathogenic microorganisms.

Authors: S. Hummert, C. Glock, S. N. Lang, C. Hummert, Christine Skerka, Peter Zipfel, S. Germerodt, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 4th May 2018

Journal: J R Soc Interface

Abstract (Expand)

The term open reading frame (ORF) is of central importance to gene finding. Surprisingly, at least three definitions are in use. We discuss several molecular biological and bioinformatics aspects, and we recommend using the definition in which an ORF is bounded by stop codons.

Authors: Patricia Sieber, M. Platzer, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 26th Jan 2018

Journal: Trends Genet

Abstract (Expand)

The identification of disease-associated modules based on protein-protein interaction networks (PPINs) and gene expression data has provided new insights into the mechanistic nature of diverse diseases. However, their identification is hampered by the detection of protein communities within large-scale, whole-genome PPINs. A presented successful strategy detects a PPIN's community structure based on the maximal clique enumeration problem (MCE), which is a non-deterministic polynomial time-hard problem. This renders the approach computationally challenging for large PPINs implying the need for new strategies. We present ModuleDiscoverer, a novel approach for the identification of regulatory modules from PPINs and gene expression data. Following the MCE-based approach, ModuleDiscoverer uses a randomization heuristic-based approximation of the community structure. Given a PPIN of Rattus norvegicus and public gene expression data, we identify the regulatory module underlying a rodent model of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The module is validated using single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data from independent genome-wide association studies and gene enrichment tests. Based on gene enrichment tests, we find that ModuleDiscoverer performs comparably to three existing module-detecting algorithms. However, only our NASH-module is significantly enriched with genes linked to NAFLD-associated SNPs. ModuleDiscoverer is available at http://www.hki-jena.de/index.php/0/2/490 (Others/ModuleDiscoverer).

Authors: S. Vlaic, Theresia Conrad, C. Tokarski-Schnelle, M. Gustafsson, U. Dahmen, Reinhard Guthke, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 11th Jan 2018

Journal: Sci Rep

Abstract (Expand)

The release of fungal cells following macrophage phagocytosis, called non-lytic expulsion, is reported for several fungal pathogens. On one hand, non-lytic expulsion may benefit the fungus in escaping the microbicidal environment of the phagosome. On the other hand, the macrophage could profit in terms of avoiding its own lysis and being able to undergo proliferation. To analyse the causes of non-lytic expulsion and the relevance of macrophage proliferation in the macrophage-Candida albicans interaction, we employ Evolutionary Game Theory and dynamic optimization in a sequential manner. We establish a game-theoretical model describing the different strategies of the two players after phagocytosis. Depending on the parameter values, we find four different Nash equilibria and determine the influence of the systems state of the host upon the game. As our Nash equilibria are a direct consequence of the model parameterization, we can depict several biological scenarios. A parameter region, where the host response is robust against the fungal infection, is determined. We further apply dynamic optimization to analyse whether macrophage mitosis is relevant in the host-pathogen interaction of macrophages and C. albicans For this, we study the population dynamics of the macrophage-C. albicans interactions and the corresponding optimal controls for the macrophages, indicating the best macrophage strategy of switching from proliferation to attacking fungal cells.

Authors: Sybille Dühring, Jan Ewald, S. Germerodt, C. Kaleta, Thomas Dandekar, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 14th Jul 2017

Journal: J R Soc Interface

Abstract (Expand)

Microbial invaders are ubiquitously present and pose the constant risk of infections that are opposed by various defence mechanisms of the human immune system. A tight regulation of the immune response ensures clearance of microbial invaders and concomitantly limits host damage that is crucial for host viability. To investigate the counterplay of infection and inflammation, we simulated the invasion of the human-pathogenic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus in lung alveoli by evolutionary games on graphs. The layered structure of the innate immune system is represented by a sequence of games in the virtual model. We show that the inflammatory cascade of the immune response is essential for microbial clearance and that the inflammation level correlates with the infection-dose. At low infection-doses, corresponding to daily inhalation of conidia, the resident alveolar macrophages may be sufficient to clear infections, however, at higher infection-doses their primary task shifts towards recruitment of neutrophils to infection sites.

Authors: J. Pollmacher, Sandra Timme, Stefan Schuster, Axel Brakhage, Peter Zipfel, Marc Thilo Figge

Date Published: 13th Jun 2016

Journal: Sci Rep

Abstract (Expand)

More than 80 years after its discovery, penicillin is still a widely used and commercially highly important antibiotic. Here, we analyse the metabolic network of penicillin synthesis in Penicillium chrysogenum based on the concept of elementary flux modes. In particular, we consider the synthesis of the invariant molecular core of the various subtypes of penicillin and the two major ways of incorporating sulfur: transsulfuration and direct sulfhydrylation. 66 elementary modes producing this invariant core are obtained. These show four different yields with respect to glucose, notably (1/2), 2/5, 1/3, and 2/7, with the highest yield of (1/2) occurring only when direct sulfhydrylation is used and alpha-aminoadipate is completely recycled. In the case of no recycling of this intermediate, we find the maximum yield to be 2/7. We compare these values with earlier literature values. Our analysis provides a systematic overview of the redundancy in penicillin synthesis and a detailed insight into the corresponding routes. Moreover, we derive suggestions for potential knockouts that could increase the average yield.

Authors: M. T. Prausse, S. Schauble, Reinhard Guthke, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 19th Aug 2015

Journal: Biotechnol Bioeng

Abstract (Expand)

The diploid, polymorphic yeast Candida albicans is one of the most important human pathogenic fungi. C. albicans can grow, proliferate and coexist as a commensal on or within the human host for a long time. However, alterations in the host environment can render C. albicans virulent. In this review, we describe the immunological cross-talk between C. albicans and the human innate immune system. We give an overview in form of pairs of human defense strategies including immunological mechanisms as well as general stressors such as nutrient limitation, pH, fever etc. and the corresponding fungal response and evasion mechanisms. Furthermore, Computational Systems Biology approaches to model and investigate these complex interactions are highlighted with a special focus on game-theoretical methods and agent-based models. An outlook on interesting questions to be tackled by Systems Biology regarding entangled defense and evasion mechanisms is given.

Authors: Sybille Dühring, S. Germerodt, Christine Skerka, Peter Zipfel, Thomas Dandekar, Stefan Schuster

Date Published: 30th Jun 2015

Journal: Front Microbiol

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