Michael C. Reed

Michael C. Reed
  • Professor of Mathematics
  • Arts & Sciences Professor
  • Bass Fellow
External address: 237 Physics Bldg., Duke University, Box 90320, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: Box 90320, Duke University 90320, Durham, NC 27708-0320
Phone: (919) 660-2808

Professor Reed is engaged in a large number of research projects that involve the application of mathematics to questions in physiology and medicine. He also works on questions in analysis that are stimulated by biological questions. For recent work on cell metabolism and public health, go to sites@duke.edu/metabolism.

Since 2003, Professor Reed has worked with Professor Fred Nijhout (Duke Biology) to use mathematical methods to understand regulatory mechanisms in cell metabolism. Most of the questions studied are directly related to public health questions. A primary topic of interest has been liver cell metabolism where Reed and Nijhout have created mathematical models for the methionine cycle, the folate cycle, and glutathione metabolism. The goal is to understand the system behavior of these parts of cell metabolism. The models have enabled them to answer biological questions in the literature and to give insight into a variety of disease processes and syndromes including: neural tube defects, Down’s syndrome, autism, vitamin B6 deficiency, acetaminophen toxicity, and arsenic poisoning.

A second major topic has been the investigation of dopamine and serotonin metabolism in the brain; this is collaborative work with Professor Nijhiout and with Janet Best, a mathematician at The Ohio State University.  The biochemistry of these neurotransmitters affects the electrophysiology of the brain and the electrophysiology affects the biochemistry. Both affect gene expression, the endocrine system, and behavior. In this complicated situation, especially because of the difficulty of experimentation, mathematical models are an essential investigative tool that can shed like on questions that are difficult to get at experimentally or clinically. The models have shed new light on the mode of action of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (used for depression), the interactions between the serotonin and dopamine systems in Parkinson’s disease and levodopa therapy, and the interactions between histamine and serotonin. 

Recent work on homeostatic mechanisms in cell biochemistry in health and disease have shown how difficult the task of precision medicine is. A gene polymorphism may make a protein such as an enzyme less effective but often the system compensates through a variety of homeostatic mechanisms. So even though an individual's genotype is different, his or her phenotype may not be different. The individuals with common polymorphisms tend tend to live on homeostatic plateaus and only those individuals near the edges of the plateau are at risk for disease processes. Interventions should try to enlarge the homeostatic plateau around the individual's genotype. 

Other areas in which Reed uses mathematical models to understand physiological questions include: axonal transport, the logical structure of the auditory brainstem, hyperacuity in the auditory system, models of pituitary cells that make luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, models of maternal-fetal competition, models of the owl’s optic tectum, and models of insect metabolism.

For general discussions of the connections between mathematics and biology, see his articles: ``Why is Mathematical Biology so Hard?,'' 2004, Notices of the AMS, 51,  pp. 338-342, and ``Mathematical Biology is Good for Mathematics,'' 2015, Notices of the AMS, 62, pp., 1172-1176.

Often, problems in biology give rise to new questions in pure mathematics. Examples of work with collaborators on such questions follow:

Laurent, T, Rider, B., and M. Reed (2006) Parabolic Behavior of a Hyberbolic Delay Equation, SIAM J. Analysis, 38, 1-15.

Mitchell, C., and M. Reed (2007) Neural Timing in Highly Convergent Systems, SIAM J. Appl. Math. 68, 720-737.

Anderson,D., Mattingly, J., Nijhout, F., and M. Reed (2007) Propagation of Fluctuations in Biochemical Systems, I: Linear SSC Networks, Bull. Math. Biol. 69, 1791-1813.

McKinley S, Popovic L, and M. Reed M. (2011) A Stochastic compartmental model for fast axonal transport, SIAM J. Appl. Math. 71, 1531-1556.

Lawley, S. Reed, M., Mattingly, S. (2014), Sensitivity to switching rates in stochastically switched ODEs,'' Comm. Math. Sci. 12, 1343-1352.

Lawley, S., Mattingly, J, Reed, M. (2015), Stochastic switching in infinite dimensions with applications to parabolic PDE, SIAM J. Math. Anal. 47, 3035-3063.

Education & Training
  • Ph.D., Stanford University 1969

  • M.S., Stanford University 1966

  • B.S., Yale University 1963

Selected Grants

(89-0396) Non-Linear Partial Differential Equations awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1990

(87-0536) Mathematical Sciences: Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1990

(88-0233) Mathematical Sciences: Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1989

(87-0200) Mathematical Simulations awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1988

(86-0115) Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1984 to 1987


Reed, MC. "Unsolved problems in the theory of non-linear wave equations." Many Degrees of Freedom in Particle Physics and Field Theory. Ed. L Streit. New York: Plenum Press. (Chapter)


da Silva, VR, Ralat, MA, Quinlivan, EP, DeRatt, BN, Garrett, TJ, Chi, Y-Y, Frederik Nijhout, H, Reed, MC, and Gregory, JF. "Targeted metabolomics and mathematical modeling demonstrate that vitamin B-6 restriction alters one-carbon metabolism in cultured HepG2 cells." American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 307.1 (July 2014): E93-101. Full Text

Nijhout, HF, and Reed, MC. "Homeostasis and dynamic stability of the phenotype link robustness and plasticity." Integrative and comparative biology 54.2 (July 2014): 264-275. Full Text

Lawley, SD, Yun, J, Gamble, MV, Hall, MN, Reed, MC, and Nijhout, HF. "Mathematical modeling of the effects of glutathione on arsenic methylation." Theoretical Biology & Medical Modelling 11 (May 16, 2014): 20-null. Full Text

Wood, KM, Zeqja, A, Nijhout, HF, Reed, MC, Best, J, and Hashemi, P. "Voltammetric and mathematical evidence for dual transport mediation of serotonin clearance in vivo." Journal of Neurochemistry 130.3 (January 1, 2014): 351-359. Full Text

Reed, M, Nijhout, HF, and Best, J. "Projecting Biochemistry Over Long Distances." Ed. L Pujo-Menjouet. Mathematical Modelling of Natural Phenomena 9.1 (2014): 133-138. Full Text

Lawley, SD, Mattingly, JC, and Reed, MC. "Sensitivity to switching rates in stochastically switched odes." Communications in Mathematical Sciences 12.7 (2014): 1343-1352. Full Text Open Access Copy

Duncan, TM, Reed, MC, and Nijhout, HF. "A population model of folate-mediated one-carbon metabolism. (Published online)" Nutrients 5.7 (July 5, 2013): 2457-2474. Full Text Open Access Copy

Duncan, TM, Reed, MC, and Nijhout, HF. "The relationship between intracellular and plasma levels of folate and metabolites in the methionine cycle: a model." Mol Nutr Food Res 57.4 (April 2013): 628-636. Full Text