Section: Scientific Foundations
Physiological & Clinical research topics
The cardiovascular system: a multiscale controlled system
Understanding the complex mechanisms involved in the cardiac pathological processes requires fundamental researches in molecular and cell biology, together with rigorous clinical evaluation protocols on the whole organ or system scales. Our objective is to contribute to to these researches by developing low-order models of the cardiac mechano-energetics and control mechanisms, for applications in model-based cardiovascular signal or image processing.
We consider intrinsic heart control mechanisms, ranging from the Starling and Treppe effects on the cell scale to the excitability of the cardiac tissue and to the control by the autonomous nervous system. They all contribute to the function of the heart in a coordinated manner that we want to analyze and assess. For this purpose, we study reduced-order models of the electro-mechanical activity of cardiac cells designed to be coupled with measures available on the organ scale (e.g. ECG and pressure signals). We study also the possibility to gain insight on the cell scale by using model-based multiscale signal processing techniques of long records of cardiovascular signals.
Here are some questions of this kind, we are considering:
- Modeling the controlled contraction/relaxation from molecular to tissue and organ scales.
- Direct and inverse modeling the electro-mechanical activity of the heart on the cell scale.
- Nonlinear spectral analysis of arterial blood pressure waveforms and application to clinical indexes.
- Modeling short-term and long-term control dynamics on the cardiovascular-system scale. Application to a Total Artificial Heart.
Reproductive system: follicular development & ovulation control
The ovulatory success is the main limiting factor of the whole reproductive process, so that a better understanding of ovulation control is needed both for clinical and zootechnical applications. It is necessary to improve the treatment of anovulatory infertility in women, as it can be by instance encountered in the PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), whose prevalence among reproductive-age women has been estimated at up to 10%. In farm domestic species, embryo production following FSH stimulation (and subsequent insemination) enables to amplify the lineage of chosen females (via embryo transfer) and to preserve the genetic diversity (via embryo storage in cryobanks). The large variability in the individual responses to ovarian stimulation treatment hampers both their therapeutic and farming applications. Improving the knowledge upon the mechanisms underlying FSH control will help to improve the success of assisted reproductive technologies, hence to prevent ovarian failure or hyperstimulation syndrome in women and to manage ovulation rate and ovarian cycle chronology in farm species.
To control ovarian cycle and ovulation, we have to deeply understand the selection process of ovulatory follicles, the determinism of the species-specific ovulation rate and of its intra- and between-species variability, as well as the triggering of the ovulatory GnRH surge from hypothalamic neurons.
Beyond the strict scope of Reproductive Physiology, this understanding raises biological questions of general interest, especially in the fields of
Molecular and Cellular Biology. The granulosa cell, which is the primary target of FSH in ovarian follicles, is a remarkable cellular model to study the dynamical control of the transitions between the cellular states of quiescence, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis, as well as the adaptability of the response to the same extra-cellular signal according to the maturity level of the target cell. Moreover, the FSH receptor belongs to the seven transmembrane spanning receptor family, which represent the most frequent target (over 50%) amongst the therapeutic agents currently available. The study of FSH receptor-mediated signaling is thus not only susceptible to allow the identification of relaying controls to the control exerted by FSH, but it is also interesting from a more generic pharmacological viewpoint.
Neuroendocrinology and Chronobiology. The mechanisms underlying the GnRH ovulatory surge involve plasticity phenomena of both neuronal cell bodies and synaptic endings comparable to those occurring in cognitive processes. Many time scales are interlinked in ovulation control from the fastest time constants of neuronal activation (millisecond) to the circannual variations in ovarian cyclicity. The influence of daylength on ovarian activity is an interesting instance of a circannual rhythm driven by a circadian rhythm (melatonin secretion from the pineal gland).
Simulation and control of a multiscale conservation law for follicular cells
In the past years, we have designed a multiscale model of the selection process of ovulatory follicles, including the cellular, follicular and ovarian levels  ,  . The model results from the double structuration of the granulosa cell population according to the cell age (position within the cell cycle) and to the cell maturity (level of sensitivity towards hormonal control). In each ovarian follicle, the granulosa cell population is described by a density function whose changes are ruled by conservation laws. The multiscale structure arises from the formulation of a hierarchical control operating on the aging and maturation velocities as well on the source terms of the conservation law. The control is expressed from different momentums of the density leading to integro-differential expressions.
Future work will take place in the REGATE project and will consist in:
- predicting the selection outcome (mono-, poly-ovulation or anovulation / ovulation chronology) resulting from given combinations of parameters and corresponding to the subtle interplay between the different organs of the gonadotropic axis (hypothalamus, pituitary gland and ovaries). The systematic exploration of the situations engendered by the model calls for the improvement of the current implementation performances. The work will consist in improving the precision of the numerical scheme, in the framework of the finite volume method and to implement the improved scheme, basing by instance on the current routines designed within the Bearclaw (http://www.amath.unc.edu/Faculty/mitran/bearclaw.html ) academic environment,
- solving the control problems associated with the model. Indeed, the physiological conditions for the triggering of ovulation, as well as the counting of ovulatory follicles amongst all follicles, define two nested and coupled reachability control problems. Such particularly awkward problems will first be tackled from a particular approximation of the density, in order to design appropriate control laws operating on the particles and allowing them to reach the target state sets.
Connectivity and dynamics of the FSH signaling network in granulosa cells
The project consists in analyzing the connectivity and dynamics of the FSH signaling network in the granulosa cells of ovarian follicles and embedding the network within the multiscale representation described above, from the molecular up to the organic level. We will examine the relative contributions of the G and arrestin-dependent pathways in response to FSH signal, determine how each pathway controls downstream cascades and which mechanisms are involved in the transition between different cellular states (quiescence, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis). On the experimental ground, we propose to develop an antibody microarray approach in order to simultaneously measure the phosphorylation levels of a large number of signaling intermediates in a single experiment. On the modeling ground, we will use the BIOCHAM (biochemical abstract machine) environment first at the boolean level, to formalize the network of interactions corresponding to the FSH-induced signaling events on the cellular scale. This network will then be enriched with kinetic information coming from experimental data, which will allow the use of the ordinary differential equation level of BIOCHAM. In order to find and fine-tune the structure of the network and the values of the kinetic parameters, model-checking techniques will permit a systematic comparison between the model behavior and the results of experiments. In the end, the cell-level model should be abstracted to a much simpler model that can be embedded into a multiscale one without losing its main characteristics.
Bifurcations in coupled neuronal oscillators.
We have proposed a mathematical model allowing for the alternating pulse and surge pattern of GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone) secretion  . The model is based on the coupling between two systems running on different time scales. The faster system corresponds to the average activity of GnRH neurons, while the slower one corresponds to the average activity of regulatory neurons. The analysis of the slow/fast dynamics exhibited within and between both systems allows to explain the different patterns (slow oscillations, fast oscillations and periodical surge) of GnRH secretion.
This model will be used as a basis to understand the control exerted by ovarian steroids on GnRH secretion, in terms of amplitude, frequency and plateau length of oscillations and to discriminate a direct action (on the GnrH network) from an indirect action (on the regulatory network) of steroids. From a mathematical viewpoint, we have to fully understand the sequences of bifurcations corresponding to the different phases of GnRH secretion. This study will be derived from a 3D reduction of the original model.