23 February 2021
Journal of Mathematical Biology
Although discrete approaches are increasingly employed to model biological phenomena, it remains unclear how complex, population-level behaviours in such frameworks arise from the rules used to represent interactions between individuals. Discrete-to-continuum approaches, which are used to derive systems of coarse-grained equations describing the mean-field dynamics of a microscopic model, can provide insight into such emergent behaviour. Coarse-grained models often contain nonlinear terms that depend on the microscopic rules of the discrete framework, however, and such nonlinearities can make a model difficult to mathematically analyse. By contrast, models developed using phenomenological approaches are typically easier to investigate but have a more obscure connection to the underlying microscopic system. To our knowledge, there has been little work done to compare solutions of phenomenological and coarse-grained models. Here we address this problem in the context of angiogenesis (the creation of new blood vessels from existing vasculature). We compare asymptotic solutions of a classical, phenomenological “snail-trail” model for angiogenesis to solutions of a nonlinear system of partial differential equations (PDEs) derived via a systematic coarse-graining procedure (Pillay et al. in Phys Rev E 95(1):012410, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevE.95.012410). For distinguished parameter regimes corresponding to chemotaxis-dominated cell movement and low branching rates, both continuum models reduce at leading order to identical PDEs within the domain interior. Numerical and analytical results confirm that pointwise differences between solutions to the two continuum models are small if these conditions hold, and demonstrate how perturbation methods can be used to determine when a phenomenological model provides a good approximation to a more detailed coarse-grained system for the same biological process.
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