Systems Immunology – Embracing Complexity
Nir Friedman, Weizmann Institute of Science

The immune system is composed of a large number of cells of many different types. These cells are generally non-autonomous and constantly interact with each other to mount adequate immune responses against various challenges to the body – pathogens, tumor cells, injuries and more. The dense network of interactions between immune cells is reminiscent of the human brain in its complexity, with a similar number of cells dynamically interacting with each other. We can think of the immune system in terms of information processing, which is carried out by a large number of interacting agents. The system has memory, and needs to discriminate self from non-self in ways which are not entirely understood.
Systems immunology is an emerging field of study that tries to embrace this complexity by bringing together tools, technologies and concepts from different scientific disciplines. It aims to bridge the different levels of the system, from the underlying molecular mechanisms, through the cellular level and intercellular interactions, to the function of the system as a whole. New high-throughput technologies allow for mapping the molecular landscape of immune cells at the genomic and epigenomic levels, and to reveal the complex gene regulatory networks that control immune cell function. Mathematical models are being developed in an effort to provide analytical and predictive descriptions of the system’s behavior. These efforts aim for a comprehensive understanding of the system, towards better design of therapeutic interventions and immunotherapies. I will give a brief overview of this new filed, with some examples also from our own research related to randomness and order in T cell repertoires.

Background Review Articles:

Ronald N. Germain, et al. The Art of the Probably: Systems Control in the Adaptive Immune System. Science 293, 240 (2001); DOI: 10.1126/science.1062946

Christophe Benoist, Ronald N. Germain, Diane Mathis, A Plaidoyer for 'Systems Immunology. Immunological Reviews, Volume 210, Number 1, April 2006, pp. 229-234 (6)

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