The evolution of mathematical immunology

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The types of mathematical models used in immunology and their scope have changed drastically in the past 10 years. Classical models were based on ordinary differential equations (ODEs), difference equations, and cellular automata. These models focused on the 'simple' dynamics obtained between a small number of reagent types (e.g. one type of receptor and one type of antigen or two T-cell populations). With the advent of high-throughput methods, genomic data, and unlimited computing power, immunological modeling shifted toward the informatics side. Many current applications of mathematical models in immunology are now focused around the concepts of high-throughput measurements and system immunology (immunomics), as well as the bioinformatics analysis of molecular immunology. The types of models have shifted from mainly ODEs of simple systems to the extensive use of Monte Carlo simulations. The transition to a more molecular and more computer-based attitude is similar to the one occurring over all the fields of complex systems analysis. An interesting additional aspect in theoretical immunology is the transition from an extreme focus on the adaptive immune system (that was considered more interesting from a theoretical point of view) to a more balanced focus taking into account the innate immune system also. We here review the origin and evolution of mathematical modeling in immunology and the contribution of such models to many important immunological concepts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-20
Number of pages12
JournalImmunological Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Mathematical modeling
  • Systems immunology
  • Theoretical immunology


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