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Spreading cell fronts play an essential role in many physiological processes. Classically, models of this process are based on the Fisher-Kolmogorov equation; however, such continuum representations are not always suitable as they do not explicitly represent behaviour at the level of individual cells. Additionally, many models examine only the large time asymptotic behaviour, where a travelling wave front with a constant speed has been established. Many experiments, such as a scratch assay, never display this asymptotic behaviour, and in these cases the transient behaviour must be taken into account. We examine the transient and the asymptotic behaviour of moving cell fronts using techniques that go beyond the continuum approximation via a volume-excluding birth-migration process on a regular one-dimensional lattice. We approximate the averaged discrete results using three methods: (i) mean-field, (ii) pair-wise, and (iii) one-hole approximations. We discuss the performance of these methods, in comparison to the averaged discrete results, for a range of parameter space, examining both the transient and asymptotic behaviours. The one-hole approximation, based on techniques from statistical physics, is not capable of predicting transient behaviour but provides excellent agreement with the asymptotic behaviour of the averaged discrete results, provided that cells are proliferating fast enough relative to their rate of migration. The mean-field and pair-wise approximations give indistinguishable asymptotic results, which agree with the averaged discrete results when cells are migrating much more rapidly than they are proliferating. The pair-wise approximation performs better in the transient region than does the mean-field, despite having the same asymptotic behaviour. Our results show that each approximation only works in specific situations, thus we must be careful to use a suitable approximation for a given system, otherwise inaccurate predictions could be made.

Original publication




Journal article


J Theor Biol

Publication Date





95 - 103


Cancer, Cell migration, Cell proliferation, Travelling front, Wound healing, 3T3 Cells, Animals, Cell Movement, Fibroblasts, Mice, Models, Biological