We present a new approach to the study of the immune system that combines techniques of systems biology with information provided by data-driven prediction methods. To this end, we have extended an agent-based simulator of the immune response, C-IMMSIM, such that it represents pathogens, as well as lymphocytes receptors, by means of their amino acid sequences and makes use of bioinformatics methods for T and B cell epitope prediction. This is a key step for the simulation of the immune response, because it determines immunogenicity. The binding of the epitope, which is the immunogenic part of an invading pathogen, together with activation and cooperation from T helper cells, is required to trigger an immune response in the affected host. To determine a pathogen's epitopes, we use existing prediction methods. In addition, we propose a novel method, which uses Miyazawa and Jernigan protein–protein potential measurements, for assessing molecular binding in the context of immune complexes. We benchmark the resulting model by simulating a classical immunization experiment that reproduces the development of immune memory. We also investigate the role of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) haplotype heterozygosity and homozygosity with respect to the influenza virus and show that there is an advantage to heterozygosity. Finally, we investigate the emergence of one or more dominating clones of lymphocytes in the situation of chronic exposure to the same immunogenic molecule and show that high affinity clones proliferate more than any other. These results show that the simulator produces dynamics that are stable and consistent with basic immunological knowledge. We believe that the combination of genomic information and simulation of the dynamics of the immune system, in one single tool, can offer new perspectives for a better understanding of the immune system.
The system is available online at http://126.96.36.199/C-IMMSIM
N. Rapin, O. Lund, M. Bernaschi and F. Castiglione. Computational immunology meets bioinformatics: the use of prediction tools for molecular binding in the simulation of the immune system. PLoS ONE. 5(4): e9862 (2010)