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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59249. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059249. Epub 2013 Mar 19.

A computational model for collective cellular motion in three dimensions: general framework and case study for cell pair dynamics.

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Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Cell migration in healthy and diseased systems is a combination of single and collective cell motion. While single cell motion has received considerable attention, our understanding of collective cell motion remains elusive. A new computational framework for the migration of groups of cells in three dimensions is presented, which focuses on the forces acting at the microscopic scale and the interactions between cells and their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Cell-cell adhesion, resistance due to the ECM and the factors regulating the propulsion of each cell through the matrix are considered. In particular, our approach emphasizes the role of receptors that mediate cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, and examines how variation in their properties induces changes in cellular motion. As an important case study, we analyze two interacting cells. Our results show that the dynamics of cell pairs depends on the magnitude and the stochastic nature of the forces. Stronger intercellular stability is generally promoted by surface receptors that move. We also demonstrate that matrix resistance, cellular stiffness and intensity of adhesion contribute to migration behaviors in different ways, with memory effects present that can alter pair motility. If adhesion weakens with time, our findings show that cell pair break-up depends strongly on the way cells interact with the matrix. Finally, the motility for cells in a larger cluster (size 50 cells) is examined to illustrate the full capabilities of the model and to stress the role of cellular pairs in complex cellular structures. Overall, our framework shows how properties of cells and their environment influence the stability and motility of cellular assemblies. This is an important step in the advancement of the understanding of collective motility, and can contribute to knowledge of complex biological processes involving migration, aggregation and detachment of cells in healthy and diseased systems.

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