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APL Bioengineering


Appropriately chosen descriptive models of cell migration in biomaterials will allow researchers to characterize and ultimately predict the movement of cells in engineered systems for a variety of applications in tissue engineering. The persistent random walk (PRW) model accurately describes cell migration on two-dimensional (2D) substrates. However, this model inherently cannot describe subdiffusive cell movement, i.e. migration paths in which the root mean square displacement increases more slowly than the square root of the time interval. Subdiffusivity is a common characteristic of cells moving in confined environments, such as three-dimensional (3D) porous scaffolds, hydrogel networks, and in vivo tissues. We demonstrate that a generalized anomalous diffusion (AD) model, which uses a simple power law to relate the mean square displacement (MSD) to time, more accurately captures individual cell migration paths across a range of engineered 2D and 3D environments than does the more commonly used PRW model. We used the AD model parameters to distinguish cell movement profiles on substrates with different chemokinetic factors, geometries (2D vs 3D), substrate adhesivities, and compliances. Although the two models performed with equal precision for superdiffusive cells, we suggest a simple AD model, in lieu of PRW, to describe cell trajectories in populations with a significant subdiffusive fraction, such as cells in confined, 3D environments.


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