Discrete and continuum approximations for collective cell migration in a scratch assay with cell size dynamics

Oleksii M. Matsiaka, Catherine J. Penington, Ruth E. Baker, Matthew J. Simpson*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Scratch assays are routinely used to study the collective spreading of cell populations. In general, the rate at which a population of cells spreads is driven by the combined effects of cell migration and proliferation. To examine the effects of cell migration separately from the effects of cell proliferation, scratch assays are often performed after treating the cells with a drug that inhibits proliferation. Mitomycin-C is a drug that is commonly used to suppress cell proliferation in this context. However, in addition to suppressing cell proliferation, mitomycin-C also causes cells to change size during the experiment, as each cell in the population approximately doubles in size as a result of treatment. Therefore, to describe a scratch assay that incorporates the effects of cell-to-cell crowding, cell-to-cell adhesion, and dynamic changes in cell size, we present a new stochastic model that incorporates these mechanisms. Our agent-based stochastic model takes the form of a system of Langevin equations that is the system of stochastic differential equations governing the evolution of the population of agents. We incorporate a time-dependent interaction force that is used to mimic the dynamic increase in size of the agents. To provide a mathematical description of the average behaviour of the stochastic model we present continuum limit descriptions using both a standard mean-field approximation and a more sophisticated moment dynamics approximation that accounts for the density of agents and density of pairs of agents in the stochastic model. Comparing the accuracy of the two continuum descriptions for a typical scratch assay geometry shows that the incorporation of agent growth in the system is associated with a decrease in accuracy of the standard mean-field description. In contrast, the moment dynamics description provides a more accurate prediction of the evolution of the scratch assay when the increase in size of individual agents is included in the model.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)738-757
    Number of pages20
    JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


    • Cell migration
    • Continuum model
    • Langevin equation
    • Mean-field approximation
    • Scratch assay
    • Stochastic model


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