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J Theor Biol. 2004 Feb 21;226(4):439-53.

A three-dimensional vertex dynamics cell model of space-filling polyhedra simulating cell behavior in a cell aggregate.

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Institute of Statistical Mathematics, Minami-Azabu 4-6-7, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8569, Japan.

Erratum in

  • J Theor Biol. 2004 May 7;228(1):147.


We developed a three-dimensional (3D) cell model of a multicellular aggregate consisting of several polyhedral cells to investigate the deformation and rearrangement of cells under the influence of external forces. The polyhedral cells fill the space in the aggregate without gaps or overlaps, consist of contracting interfaces and maintain their volumes. The interfaces and volumes were expressed by 3D vertex coordinates. Vertex movements obey equations of motion that rearrange the cells to minimize total free energy, and undergo an elementary process that exchanges vertex pair connections when vertices approach each other. The total free energy includes the interface energy of cells and the compression or expansion energy of cells. Computer simulations provided the following results: An aggregate of cells becomes spherical to minimize individual cell surface areas; Polygonal interfaces of cells remain flat; Cells within the 3D cell aggregate can move and rearrange despite the absence of free space. We examined cell rearrangement to elucidate the viscoelastic properties of the aggregate, e.g. when an external force flattens a cell aggregate (e.g. under centrifugation) its component cells quickly flatten. Under a continuous external force, the cells slowly rearrange to recover their original shape although the cell aggregate remains flat. The deformation and rearrangement of individual cells is a two-step process with a time lag. Our results showed that morphological and viscoelastic properties of the cell aggregate with long relaxation time are based on component cells where minimization of interfacial energy of cells provides a motive force for cell movement.

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