Multiscale Coupling of an Agent-Based Model of Tissue Fibrosis and a Logic-Based Model of Intracellular Signaling

Front Physiol. 2019 Dec 17;10:1481. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01481. eCollection 2019.


Wound healing and fibrosis following myocardial infarction (MI) is a dynamic process involving many cell types, extracellular matrix (ECM), and inflammatory cues. As both incidence and survival rates for MI increase, management of post-MI recovery and associated complications are an increasingly important focus. Complexity of the wound healing process and the need for improved therapeutics necessitate a better understanding of the biochemical cues that drive fibrosis. To study the progression of cardiac fibrosis across spatial and temporal scales, we developed a novel hybrid multiscale model that couples a logic-based differential equation (LDE) model of the fibroblast intracellular signaling network with an agent-based model (ABM) of multi-cellular tissue remodeling. The ABM computes information about cytokine and growth factor levels in the environment including TGFβ, TNFα, IL-1β, and IL-6, which are passed as inputs to the LDE model. The LDE model then computes the network signaling state of individual cardiac fibroblasts within the ABM. Based on the current network state, fibroblasts make decisions regarding cytokine secretion and deposition and degradation of collagen. Simulated fibroblasts respond dynamically to rapidly changing extracellular environments and contribute to spatial heterogeneity in model predicted fibrosis, which is governed by many parameters including cell density, cell migration speeds, and cytokine levels. Verification tests confirmed that predictions of the coupled model and network model alone were consistent in response to constant cytokine inputs and furthermore, a subset of coupled model predictions were validated with in vitro experiments with human cardiac fibroblasts. This multiscale framework for cardiac fibrosis will allow for systematic screening of the effects of molecular perturbations in fibroblast signaling on tissue-scale extracellular matrix composition and organization.

Keywords: agent-based model; cardiac fibroblast; fibrosis; multiscale modeling; myocardial infarction; network model; systems biology.