Publication Date



PLoS ONE. 2008; 3(2): e1693


Diseases are believed to arise from dysregulation of biological systems (pathways) perturbed by environmental triggers. Biological systems as a whole are not just the sum of their components, rather ever-changing, complex and dynamic systems over time in response to internal and external perturbation. In the past, biologists have mainly focused on studying either functions of isolated genes or steady-states of small biological pathways. However, it is systems dynamics that play an essential role in giving rise to cellular function/dysfunction which cause diseases, such as growth, differentiation, division and apoptosis. Biological phenomena of the entire organism are not only determined by steady-state characteristics of the biological systems, but also by intrinsic dynamic properties of biological systems, including stability, transient-response, and controllability, which determine how the systems maintain their functions and performance under a broad range of random internal and external perturbations. As a proof of principle, we examine signal transduction pathways and genetic regulatory pathways as biological systems. We employ widely used state-space equations in systems science to model biological systems, and use expectation-maximization (EM) algorithms and Kalman filter to estimate the parameters in the models. We apply the developed state-space models to human fibroblasts obtained from the autoimmune fibrosing disease, scleroderma, and then perform dynamic analysis of partial TGF-beta pathway in both normal and scleroderma fibroblasts stimulated by silica. We find that TGF-beta pathway under perturbation of silica shows significant differences in dynamic properties between normal and scleroderma fibroblasts. Our findings may open a new avenue in exploring the functions of cells and mechanism operative in disease development.


Algorithms, Cells, Cultured, Environment, Fibroblasts, Gene Regulatory Networks, Humans, Physical Stimulation, Scleroderma, Systemic, Signal Transduction, Silicon Dioxide, Systems Biology, Transforming Growth Factor beta


PMCID: PMC2246014

Link to article in PLoS