Computational and Theoretical Study of the Physical Constraints on Chemotaxis

Julien Varennes, Purdue University


Cell chemotaxis is crucial to many biological functions including development, wound healing, and cancer metastasis. Chemotaxis is the process in which cells migrate in response to chemical concentration gradients. Recent experiments show that cells are capable of detecting shallow gradients as small as a 1% concentration difference, and multicellular groups can improve on this by an additional order of magnitude. Examples from morphogenesis and metastasis demonstrate collective response to gradients equivalent to a 1 molecule difference in concentration across a cell body. While the physical constraints to cell gradient sensing are well understood, how the sensory information leads to cell migration, and coherent multicellular movement in the case of collectives, remains poorly understood. Here we examine how extrinsic sensory noise leads to error in chemotactic performance. First, we study single cell chemotaxis and use both simulations and analytical models to place physical constraints on chemotactic performance. Next we turn our attention to collective chemotaxis. We examine how collective cell interactions can improve chemotactic performance. We develop a novel model for quantifying the physical limit to chemotactic precision for two stereotypical modes of collective chemotaxis. Finally, we conclude by examining the effects of intercellular communication on collective chemotaxis. We use simulations to test how well collectives can chemotax through very shallow gradients with the help of communication. By studying these computational and theoretical models of individual and collective chemotaxis, we address the gap in knowledge between chemical sensing and directed migration.




Mugler, Purdue University.

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