The human body can be viewed as a dynamical system, with physiological states such as health and disease broadly representing steady states. From this perspective, and given inter- and intra-individual heterogeneity, an important task is identifying the propensity to transition from one steady state to another, which in practice can occur abruptly. Detecting impending transitions between steady states is of significant importance in many fields, and thus a variety of methods have been developed for this purpose, but lack of data has limited applications in physiology. Here, we propose a model-based approach towards identifying critical transitions in systemic inflammation based on a minimal amount of assumptions about the availability of data and the structure of the system. We derived a warning signal metric to identify forthcoming abrupt transitions occurring in a mathematical model of systemic inflammation with a gradually increasing bacterial load. Intervention to remove the inflammatory stimulus was successful in restoring homeostasis if undertaken when the warning signal was elevated rather than waiting for the state variables of the system themselves to begin moving to a new steady state. The proposed combination of data and model-based analysis for predicting physiological transitions represents a step forward towards the quantitative study of complex biological systems.
Keywords: Bifurcation; Endotoxemia; Generalized modeling; Stability analysis; Systems biology.
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