Using systems biology to simplify complex disease: Immune cartography

Ashoka D. Polpitiya, Jonathan E. McDunn, Anton Burykin, Bijoy K. Ghosh, J. Perren Cobb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


What if there was a rapid, inexpensive, and accurate blood diagnostic that could determine which patients were infected, identify the organism(s) responsible, and identify patients who were not responding to therapy? We hypothesized that systems analysis of the transcriptional activity of circulating immune effector cells could be used to identify conserved elements in the host response to systemic inflammation, and furthermore, to discriminate between sterile and infectious etiologies. We review herein a validated, systems biology approach demonstrating that 1) abdominal and pulmonary sepsis diagnoses can be made in mouse models using microarray (RNA) data from circulating blood, 2) blood microarray data can be used to differentiate between the host response to Gram-negative and Gram-positive pneumonia, 3) the endotoxin response of normal human volunteers can be mapped at the level of gene expression, and 4) a similar strategy can be used in the critically ill to follow septic patients and quantitatively determine immune recovery. These findings provide the foundation of immune cartography and demonstrate the potential of this approach for rapidly diagnosing sepsis and identifying pathogens. Further, our data suggest a new approach to determine how specific pathogens perturb the physiology of circulating leukocytes in a cell-specific manner. Large, prospective clinical trails are needed to validate the clinical utility of leukocyte RNA diagnostics (e.g., the riboleukogram).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S16-S21
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Critical care
  • Diagnostics
  • Genomics
  • Interactome
  • Microarray


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