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)

Dendritic cells (DCs) are antigen presenting cells which serve as a passage between the innate and the acquired immunity. Aspergillosis is a major lethal condition in immunocompromised patients caused by the adaptable saprophytic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The healthy human immune system is capable to ward off A. fumigatus infections however immune-deficient patients are highly vulnerable to invasive aspergillosis. A. fumigatus can persist during infection due to its ability to survive the immune response of human DCs. Therefore, the study of the metabolism specific to the context of infection may allow us to gain insight into the adaptation strategies of both the pathogen and the immune cells. We established a metabolic model of A. fumigatus central metabolism during infection of DCs and calculated the metabolic pathway (elementary modes; EMs). Transcriptome data were used to identify pathways activated when A. fumigatus is challenged with DCs. In particular, amino acid metabolic pathways, alternative carbon metabolic pathways and stress regulating enzymes were found to be active. Metabolic flux modeling identified further active enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase, inositol oxygenase and GTP cyclohydrolase participating in different stress responses in A. fumigatus. These were further validated by qRT-PCR from RNA extracted under these different conditions. For DCs, we outlined the activation of metabolic pathways in response to the confrontation with A. fumigatus. We found the fatty acid metabolism plays a crucial role, along with other metabolic changes. The gene expression data and their analysis illuminate additional regulatory pathways activated in the DCs apart from interleukin regulation. In particular, Toll-like receptor signaling, NOD-like receptor signaling and RIG-I-like receptor signaling were active pathways. Moreover, we identified subnetworks and several novel key regulators such as UBC, EGFR, and CUL3 of DCs to be activated in response to A. fumigatus. In conclusion, we analyze the metabolic and regulatory responses of A. fumigatus and DCs when confronted with each other.

Authors: Mugdha Srivastava, E. Bencurova, Shishir K Gupta, Esther Weiß, Jürgen Löffler, Thomas Dandekar

Date Published: 14th Jun 2019

Journal: Front Cell Infect Microbiol

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)

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)

Understanding optimality principles shaping the evolution of regulatory networks controlling metabolism is crucial for deriving a holistic picture of how metabolism is integrated into key cellular processes such as growth, adaptation and pathogenicity. While in the past the focus of research in pathway regulation was mainly based on stationary states, more recently dynamic optimization has proved to be an ideal tool to decipher regulatory strategies for metabolic pathways in response to environmental cues. In this short review, we summarize recent advances in the elucidation of optimal regulatory strategies and identification of optimal control points in metabolic pathways. We discuss biological implications of the discovered optimality principles on genome organization and provide examples how the derived knowledge can be used to identify new treatment strategies against pathogens. Furthermore, we briefly discuss the variety of approaches for solving dynamic optimization problems and emphasize whole-cell resource allocation models as an important emerging area of research that will allow us to study the regulation of metabolism on the whole-cell level.

Authors: Jan Ewald, M. Bartl, Christoph Kaleta

Date Published: 30th Jul 2017

Journal: Biochem Soc Trans

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)

A precise and rapid adjustment of fluxes through metabolic pathways is crucial for organisms to prevail in changing environmental conditions. Based on this reasoning, many guiding principles that govern the evolution of metabolic networks and their regulation have been uncovered. To this end, methods from dynamic optimization are ideally suited since they allow to uncover optimality principles behind the regulation of metabolic networks. We used dynamic optimization to investigate the influence of toxic intermediates in connection with the efficiency of enzymes on the regulation of a linear metabolic pathway. Our results predict that transcriptional regulation favors the control of highly efficient enzymes with less toxic upstream intermediates to reduce accumulation of toxic downstream intermediates. We show that the derived optimality principles hold by the analysis of the interplay between intermediate toxicity and pathway regulation in the metabolic pathways of over 5000 sequenced prokaryotes. Moreover, using the lipopolysaccharide biosynthesis in Escherichia coli as an example, we show how knowledge about the relation of regulation, kinetic efficiency and intermediate toxicity can be used to identify drug targets, which control endogenous toxic metabolites and prevent microbial growth. Beyond prokaryotes, we discuss the potential of our findings for the development of antifungal drugs.

Authors: Jan Ewald, M. Bartl, Thomas Dandekar, Christoph Kaleta

Date Published: 18th Feb 2017

Journal: PLoS Comput Biol

Abstract (Expand)

BACKGROUND: Adjusting the capacity of metabolic pathways in response to rapidly changing environmental conditions is an important component of microbial adaptation strategies to stochastic environments. In this work, we use advanced dynamic optimization techniques combined with theoretical models to study which reactions in pathways are optimally targeted by regulatory interactions in order to minimize the regulatory effort that is required to adjust the flux through a complex metabolic network. Moreover, we analyze how constraints in the speed at which an organism can respond on a proteomic level influences these optimal targets of pathway control. RESULTS: We find that limitations in protein biosynthetic rates have a strong influence. With increasing protein biosynthetic rates the regulatory effort targeting the initial enzyme in a pathway is reduced while the regulatory effort in the terminal enzyme is increased. Studying the impact of allosteric regulation for different pathway topologies, we find that the presence of feedback inhibition by products of metabolic pathways allows organisms to reduce the regulatory effort that is required to control a metabolic pathway in all cases. In a linear pathway this even leads to the case where the sole transcriptional regulatory control of the terminal enzyme is sufficient to control flux through the entire pathway. We confirm the utilization of these pathway regulation strategies through the large-scale analysis of transcriptional regulation in several hundred prokaryotes. CONCLUSIONS: This work expands our knowledge about optimal programs of pathway control. Optimal targets of pathway control strongly depend on the speed at which proteins can be synthesized. Moreover, post-translational regulation such as allosteric regulation allows to strongly reduce the number of transcriptional regulatory interactions required to control a metabolic pathway across different pathway topologies.

Authors: G. M. de Hijas-Liste, E. Balsa-Canto, Jan Ewald, M. Bartl, P. Li, J. R. Banga, Christoph Kaleta

Date Published: 16th May 2015

Journal: BMC Bioinformatics

Abstract (Expand)

In this work, we investigate optimality principles behind synthesis strategies for protein complexes using a dynamic optimization approach. We show that the cellular capacity of protein synthesis has a strong influence on optimal synthesis strategies reaching from a simultaneous to a sequential synthesis of the subunits of a protein complex. Sequential synthesis is preferred if protein synthesis is strongly limited, whereas a simultaneous synthesis is optimal in situations with a high protein synthesis capacity. We confirm the predictions of our optimization approach through the analysis of the operonic organization of protein complexes in several hundred prokaryotes. Thereby, we are able to show that cellular protein synthesis capacity is a driving force in the dissolution of operons comprising the subunits of a protein complex. Thus, we also provide a tested hypothesis explaining why the subunits of many prokaryotic protein complexes are distributed across several operons despite the presumably less precise co-regulation.

Authors: Jan Ewald, M. Kotzing, M. Bartl, Christoph Kaleta

Date Published: 1st May 2015

Journal: Metabolites

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