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Modeling the messy patterns of skin cells

Research Highlights- - By Tien Nguyen, Department of Chemistry

Often biological spatial patterns are complex and disordered. Modeling and characterizing these singular structures offers many theoretical challenges. In proliferating epithelia of mammalian skin, cells of irregular polygonal-like shapes pack into complex nearly flat two-dimensional structures that are pliable to deformations.

In a new study published in the Biophysical Journal, Torquato and colleagues employ the theoretical machinery of statistical mechanics to quantitatively characterize the structure of skin samples at early and late stages of embryonic development by treating the cells as interacting entities with effective pair potentials.

Summary schematic
Credit: Torquato lab

Novel structural features across length scales in skin are unveiled by the information extracted from the determination of sensitive statistical spatial descriptors. The researchers also formulate a minimalist four-component statistical-mechanical model that accurately models the complex tissue patterns and captures key cell mechanics and accurately predicts late-stage cell packing patterns found in experiments. The statistical-mechanical model enables one to generate tissue microstructure at will for further analysis. The research team discusses ways in which their model might be extended so as to better understand morphogenesis, wound-healing, and disease progression processes in skin, and application to the generation of synthetic tissues.

Read the full article here:

Chen, D.; Aw, W. Y.; Devenport, D.; Torquato, S. “Structural Characterization and Statistical-Mechanical Model of Epidermal Patterns.Biophysical Journal, 2016, 111, 2534.