A basic mathematical model of the immune response

Chaos. 1995 Mar;5(1):155-161. doi: 10.1063/1.166098.


Interaction of the immune system with a target population of, e.g., bacteria, viruses, antigens, or tumor cells must be considered as a dynamic process. We describe this process by a system of two ordinary differential equations. Although the model is strongly idealized it demonstrates how the combination of a few proposed nonlinear interaction rules between the immune system and its targets are able to generate a considerable variety of different kinds of immune responses, many of which are observed both experimentally and clinically. In particular, solutions of the model equations correspond to states described by immunologists as "virgin state," "immune state" and "state of tolerance." The model successfully replicates the so-called primary and secondary response. Moreover, it predicts the existence of a threshold level for the amount of pathogen germs or of transplanted tumor cells below which the host is able to eliminate the infectious organism or to reject the tumor graft. We also find a long time coexistence of targets and immune competent cells including damped and undamped oscillations of both. Plausibly the model explains that if the number of transformed cells or pathogens exeeds definable values (poor antigenicity, high reproduction rate) the immune system fails to keep the disease under control. On the other hand, the model predicts apparently paradoxical situations including an increased chance of target survival despite enhanced immune activity or therapeutically achieved target reduction. A further obviously paradoxical behavior consists of a positive effect for the patient up to a complete cure by adding an additional target challenge where the benefit of the additional targets depends strongly on the time point and on their amount. Under periodically pulsed stimulation the model may show a chaotic time behavior of both target growth and immune response. (c) 1995 American Institute of Physics.