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In this work we analyse a one-dimensional, cell-based model of an epithelial sheet. In the model, cells interact with their nearest neighbouring cells and move deterministically. Cells also proliferate stochastically, with the rate of proliferation specified as a function of the cell length. This mechanical model of cell dynamics gives rise to a free boundary problem. We construct a corresponding continuum-limit description where the variables in the continuum limit description are expanded in powers of the small parameter 1/N, where N is the number of cells in the population. By carefully constructing the continuum limit description we obtain a free boundary partial differential equation description governing the density of the cells within the evolving domain, as well as a free boundary condition that governs the evolution of the domain. We show that care must be taken to arrive at a free boundary condition that conserves mass. By comparing averaged realisations of the cell-based model with the numerical solution of the free boundary partial differential equation, we show that the new mass-conserving boundary condition enables the coarse-grained partial differential equation model to provide very accurate predictions of the behaviour of the cell-based model, including both evolution of the cell density, and the position of the free boundary, across a range of interaction potentials and proliferation functions in the cell based model.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of theoretical biology

Publication Date



Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Electronic address: