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DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.108.054407

Soliton approximation in continuum models of leader-follower behavior

F. TerragniW. D. MartinsonM. CarreteroP. K. MainiL. L. Bonilla
Nov 2023
Complex biological processes involve collective behavior of entities (bacteria, cells, animals) over many length and time scales and can be described by discrete models that track individuals or by continuum models involving densities and fields. We consider hybrid stochastic agent-based models of branching morphogenesis and angiogenesis (new blood vessel creation from pre-existing vasculature), which treat cells as individuals that are guided by underlying continuous chemical and/or mechanical fields. In these descriptions, leader (tip) cells emerge from existing branches and follower (stalk) cells build the new sprout in their wake. Vessel branching and fusion (anastomosis) occur as a result of tip and stalk cell dynamics. Coarse-graining these hybrid models in appropriate limits produces continuum partial differential equations (PDEs) for endothelial cell densities that are more analytically tractable. While these models differ in nonlinearity, they produce similar equations at leading order when chemotaxis is dominant. We analyze this leading order system in a simple quasi-one-dimensional geometry and show that the numerical solution of the leading order PDE is well described by a soliton wave that evolves from vessel to source. This wave is an attractor for intermediate times until it arrives at the hypoxic region releasing the growth factor. The mathematical techniques used here thus identify common features of discrete and continuum approaches and provide insight into general biological mechanisms governing their collective dynamics.
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