A thermodynamic perspective of immune capabilities
We consider the mutual interactions, via cytokine exchanges, among helper lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and killer lymphocytes, and we model them as a unique system by means of a tripartite network. Each part includes all the different clones of the same lymphatic subpopulation, whose couplings to the others are either excitatory or inhibitory (mirroring elicitation and suppression by cytokine). First of all, we show that this system can be mapped into an associative neural network, where helper cells directly interact with each other and are able to secrete cytokines according to “strategies” learn by the system and profitable to cope with possible antigenic stimulation; the ability of such a retrieval corresponds to a healthy reaction of the immune system. We then investigate the possible conditions for the failure of a correct retrieval and distinguish between the following outcomes: massive lymphocyte expansion/suppression (e.g. lymphoproliferative syndromes), subpopulation unbalance (e.g. HIV, EBV infections) and ageing (thought of as noise growth); the correlation of such states to autoimmune diseases is also highlighted. Lastly, we discuss how self-regulatory effects within each effector branch (i.e. B and killer lymphocytes) can be modeled in terms of a stochastic process, ultimately providing a consistent bridge between the tripartite-network approach introduced here and the immune networks developed in the last decades.