Computational modeling of epithelial-mesenchymal transformations

Biosystems. 2010 Apr;100(1):23-30. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2009.12.004. Epub 2009 Dec 31.


An epithelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) involves alterations in cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion, the detachment of epithelial cells from their neighbors, the degradation of the basal lamina and acquisition of mesenchymal phenotype. Here we present Monte Carlo simulations for a specific EMT in early heart development: the formation of cardiac cushions. Cell rearrangements are described in accordance with Steinberg's differential adhesion hypothesis, which states that cells possess a type-dependent adhesion apparatus and are sufficiently motile to give rise to the tissue conformation with the largest number of strong bonds. We also implement epithelial and mesenchymal cell proliferation, cell type change and extracellular matrix production by mesenchymal cells. Our results show that an EMT is promoted more efficiently by an increase in cell-substrate adhesion than by a decrease in cell-cell adhesion. In addition to cushion tissue formation, the model also accounts for the phenomena of matrix invasion and mesenchymal condensation. We conclude that in order to maintain epithelial integrity during EMT the number of epithelial cells must increase at a controlled rate. Our model predictions are in qualitative agreement with available experimental data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Heart / embryology
  • Mesoderm / cytology*
  • Monte Carlo Method