A computational model of cell polarization and motility coupling mechanics and biochemistry 

Ben Vanderlei, James J. Feng & Leah Edelstein-Keshet

SIAM Multiscale Model. Simul. 9, 1420-1443 (2011).

Abstract - The motion of a eukaryotic cell presents a variety of interesting and challenging problems from both a modeling and a computational perspective. The processes span many spatial scales (from molecular to tissue) as well as disparate time scales, with reaction kinetics on the order of seconds, and the deformation and motion of the cell occurring on the order of minutes. The computational difficulty, even in 2D, resides in the fact that the problem is inherently one of deforming, non-stationary domains, bounded by an elastic perimeter, inside of which there is redistribution of biochemical signaling substances. Here we report the results of a computational scheme using the immersed boundary method to address this problem. We adopt a simple reaction-diffusion system that represents an internal regulatory mechanism controlling the polarization of a cell, and determining the strength of protrusion forces at the front of its elastic perimeter. Using this computational scheme we are able to study the effect of protrusive and elastic forces on cell shapes on their own, the distribution of the reaction-diffusion system in irregular domains on its own, and the coupled mechanical-chemical system. We find that this representation of cell crawling can recover important aspects of the spontaneous polarization and motion of certain types of crawling cells.