WIAS Preprint No. 1959, (2014)

Influence of cell shape, inhomogeneities and diffusion barriers in cell polarization models


  • Giese, Wolfgang
  • Eigel, Martin
    ORCID: 0000-0003-2687-4497
  • Westerheide, Sebastian
  • Engwer, Christian
  • Klipp, Edda

2010 Mathematics Subject Classification

  • 35Q92 92C37 65M60 74S05 92-08 37N25 46N60 62P10


  • polarization models, surface FEM, bulk-surface PDE, computer simulation, spatial simulation, spatial inhomogenities, Cdc42




In silico experiments bear the potential to further the understanding of biological transport processes by allowing a systematic modification of any spatial property and providing immediate simulation results for the chosen models. We consider cell polarization and spatial reorganization of membrane proteins which are fundamental for cell division, chemotaxis and morphogenesis. Our computational study is motivated by mating and budding processes of S. cerevisiae. In these processes a key player during the initial phase of polarization is the GTPase Cdc42 which occurs in an active membrane-bound form and an inactive cytosolic form. We use partial differential equations to describe the membrane-cytosol shuttling of Cdc42 during budding as well as mating of yeast. The membrane is modeled as a thin layer that only allows lateral diffusion and the cytosol is modeled as a volume. We investigate how cell shape and diffusion barriers like septin structures or bud scars influence Cdc42 cluster formation and subsequent polarization of the yeast cell. Since the details of the binding kinetics of cytosolic proteins to the membrane are still controversial, we employ two conceptual models which assume different binding kinetics. An extensive set of in silico experiments with different modeling hypotheses illustrate the qualitative dependence of cell polarization on local membrane curvature, cell size and inhomogeneities on the membrane and in the cytosol. We examine that spatial inhomogenities essentially determine the location of Cdc42 cluster formation and spatial properties are crucial for the realistic description of the polarization process in cells. In particular, our computer simulations suggest that diffusion barriers are essential for the yeast cell to grow a protrusion.

Appeared in

  • Phys. Biol., 12 (2015) pp. 066014/1--18.

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