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Cell motility in response to environmental cues forms the basis of many developmental processes in multicellular organisms. One such environmental cue is an electric field (EF), which induces a form of motility known as electrotaxis. Electrotaxis has evolved in a number of cell types to guide wound healing and has been associated with different cellular processes, suggesting that observed electrotactic behavior is likely a combination of multiple distinct effects arising from the presence of an EF. To determine the different mechanisms by which observed electrotactic behavior emerges, and thus to design EFs that can be applied to direct and control electrotaxis, researchers require accurate quantitative predictions of cellular responses to externally applied fields. Here, we use mathematical modeling to formulate and parameterize a variety of hypothetical descriptions of how cell motility may change in response to an EF. We calibrate our model to observed data using synthetic likelihoods and Bayesian sequential learning techniques and demonstrate that EFs bias cellular motility through only one of a selection of hypothetical mechanisms. We also demonstrate how the model allows us to make predictions about cellular motility under different EFs. The resulting model and calibration methodology will thus form the basis for future data-driven and model-based feedback control strategies based on electric actuation.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophysical journal

Publication Date





3363 - 3373


Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom; Alan Turing Institute, London, United Kingdom. Electronic address: