Predicting Collective Migration of Cell Populations Defined by Varying Repolarization Dynamics

Jairaj Mathur, Bapi Sarker, Amit Pathak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Collective migration of heterogeneous cell populations is an essential aspect of fundamental biological processes, including morphogenesis, wound healing, and tumor invasion. Through experiments and modeling, it has been shown that cells attain front-rear polarity, generate forces, and form adhesions to migrate. However, it remains unclear how the ability of individual cells in a population to dynamically repolarize themselves into new directions could regulate the collective response. We present a vertex-based model in which each deformable cell randomly chooses a new polarization direction after every defined time interval, elongates, proportionally generates forces, and causes collective migration. Our simulations predict that cell types that repolarize at longer time intervals attain more elongated shapes, migrate faster, deform the cell sheet, and roughen the leading edge. By imaging collectively migrating epithelial cell monolayers at high temporal resolution, we found longer repolarization intervals and elongated shapes of cells at the leading edge compared to those within the monolayer. Based on these experimental measurements and simulations, we defined aggressive mutant leader cells by long repolarization interval and minimal intercellular contact. The cells with frequent and random repolarization were defined as normal cells. In simulations with uniformly dispersed leader cells in a normal cell population at a 1:10 ratio, the resulting migration and deformation of the heterogeneous cell sheet remained low. However, when the 10% mutant leaders were placed only at the leading edge, we predicted a rise in the migration of an otherwise normal cell sheet. Our model predicts that a repolarization-based definition of leader cells and their placement within a healthy population can generate myriad modes of collective cell migration, which can enhance our understanding of collective cell migration in disease and development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2474-2485
Number of pages12
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 18 2018


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