Possible roles of mechanical cell elimination intrinsic to growing tissues from the perspective of tissue growth efficiency and homeostasis

PLoS Comput Biol. 2017 Jul 13;13(7):e1005651. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005651. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Cell competition is a phenomenon originally described as the competition between cell populations with different genetic backgrounds; losing cells with lower fitness are eliminated. With the progress in identification of related molecules, some reports described the relevance of cell mechanics during elimination. Furthermore, recent live imaging studies have shown that even in tissues composed of genetically identical cells, a non-negligible number of cells are eliminated during growth. Thus, mechanical cell elimination (MCE) as a consequence of mechanical cellular interactions is an unavoidable event in growing tissues and a commonly observed phenomenon. Here, we studied MCE in a genetically-homogeneous tissue from the perspective of tissue growth efficiency and homeostasis. First, we propose two quantitative measures, cell and tissue fitness, to evaluate cellular competitiveness and tissue growth efficiency, respectively. By mechanical tissue simulation in a pure population where all cells have the same mechanical traits, we clarified the dependence of cell elimination rate or cell fitness on different mechanical/growth parameters. In particular, we found that geometrical (specifically, cell size) and mechanical (stress magnitude) heterogeneities are common determinants of the elimination rate. Based on these results, we propose possible mechanical feedback mechanisms that could improve tissue growth efficiency and density/stress homeostasis. Moreover, when cells with different mechanical traits are mixed (e.g., in the presence of phenotypic variation), we show that MCE could drive a drastic shift in cell trait distribution, thereby improving tissue growth efficiency through the selection of cellular traits, i.e. intra-tissue "evolution". Along with the improvement of growth efficiency, cell density, stress state, and phenotype (mechanical traits) were also shown to be homogenized through growth. More theoretically, we propose a mathematical model that approximates cell competition dynamics, by which the time evolution of tissue fitness and cellular trait distribution can be predicted without directly simulating a cell-based mechanical model.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Phenomena*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Computational Biology
  • Drosophila
  • Epithelium
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Development
  • Xenopus

Grants and funding

This work was supported by grants from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (https://kaken.nii.ac.jp/en/), grant number 15H01502 to YM. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.