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Background: Expert knowledge in journal articles is an important source of data for reconstructing biological pathways and creating new hypotheses. An important need for medical research is to integrate this data with high throughput sources to build useful models that span several scales. Researchers traditionally use mental models of pathways to integrate information and development new hypotheses. Unfortunately, the amount of information is often overwhelming and these are inadequate for predicting the dynamic response of complex pathways. Hierarchical computational models that allow exploration of semi-quantitative dynamics are useful systems biology tools for theoreticians, experimentalists and clinicians and may provide a means for cross-communication.

Results: A novel approach for biological pathway modeling based on hybrid intelligent systems or soft computing technologies is presented here. Intelligent hybrid systems, which refers to several related computing methods such as fuzzy logic, neural nets, genetic algorithms, and statistical analysis, has become ubiquitous in engineering applications for complex control system modeling and design. Biological pathways may be considered to be complex control systems, which medicine tries to manipulate to achieve desired results. Thus, hybrid intelligent systems may provide a useful tool for modeling biological system dynamics and computational exploration of new drug targets. A new modeling approach based on these methods is presented in the context of hedgehog regulation of the cell cycle in granule cells. Code and input files can be found at the Bionet website: www.chip.ord/~wbosl/Software/Bionet.

Conclusion: This paper presents the algorithmic methods needed for modeling complicated biochemical dynamics using rule-based models to represent expert knowledge in the context of cell cycle regulation and tumor growth. A notable feature of this modeling approach is that it allows biologists to build complex models from their knowledge base without the need to translate that knowledge into mathematical form. Dynamics on several levels, from molecular pathways to tissue growth, are seamlessly integrated. A number of common network motifs are examined and used to build a model of hedgehog regulation of the cell cycle in cerebellar neurons, which is believed to play a key role in the etiology of medulloblastoma, a devastating childhood brain cancer.


Article published in BMC Systems Biology 2007, 1:13 doi:10.1186/1752-0509-1-13