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Continuum, partial differential equation models are often used to describe the collective motion of cell populations, with various types of motility represented by the choice of diffusion coefficient, and cell proliferation captured by the source terms. Previously, the choice of diffusion coefficient has been largely arbitrary, with the decision to choose a particular linear or nonlinear form generally based on calibration arguments rather than making any physical connection with the underlying individual-level properties of the cell motility mechanism. In this work we provide a new link between individual-level models, which account for important cell properties such as varying cell shape and volume exclusion, and population-level partial differential equation models. We work in an exclusion process framework, considering aligned, elongated cells that may occupy more than one lattice site, in order to represent populations of agents with different sizes. Three different idealisations of the individual-level mechanism are proposed, and these are connected to three different partial differential equations, each with a different diffusion coefficient; one linear, one nonlinear and degenerate and one nonlinear and nondegenerate. We test the ability of these three models to predict the population-level response of a cell spreading problem for both proliferative and nonproliferative cases. We also explore the potential of our models to predict long time travelling wave invasion rates and extend our results to two-dimensional spreading and invasion. Our results show that each model can accurately predict density data for nonproliferative systems, but that only one does so for proliferative systems. Hence great care must be taken to predict density data with varying cell shape. © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications

Publication Date





3729 - 3750