Mathematical medicine and biology : a journal of the IMA
We develop a continuum model for the aggregation of cells cultured in a nutrient-rich medium in a culture well. We consider a 2D geometry, representing a vertical slice through the culture well, and assume that the cell layer depth is small compared with the typical lengthscale of the culture well. We adopt a continuum mechanics approach, treating the cells and culture medium as a two-phase mixture. Specifically, the cells and culture medium are treated as fluids. Additionally, the cell phase can generate forces in response to environmental cues, which include the concentration of a chemoattractant that is produced by the cells within the culture medium. The model leads to a system of coupled nonlinear partial differential equations for the volume fraction and velocity of the cell phase, the culture medium pressure and the chemoattractant concentration, which must be solved subject to appropriate boundary and initial conditions. To gain insight into the system, we consider two model reductions, appropriate when the cell layer depth is thin compared to the typical length scale of the culture well: a (simple) 1D and a (more involved) thin-film extensional flow reduction. By investigating the resulting systems of equations analytically and numerically, we identify conditions under which small amplitude perturbations to a homogeneous steady state (corresponding to a spatially uniform cell distribution) can lead to a spatially varying steady state (pattern formation). Our analysis reveals that the simpler 1D reduction has the same qualitative features as the thin-film extensional flow reduction in the linear and weakly nonlinear regimes, motivating the use of the simpler 1D modelling approach when a qualitative understanding of the system is required. However, the thin-film extensional flow reduction may be more appropriate when detailed quantitative agreement between modelling predictions and experimental data is desired. Furthermore, full numerical simulations of the two model reductions in regions of parameter space when the system is not close to marginal stability reveal significant differences in the evolution of the volume fraction and velocity of the cell phase, and chemoattractant concentration.
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