Reproduction of patterns in melanocytic proliferations by agent-based simulation and geometric modeling

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Feb 4;17(2):e1008660. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008660. eCollection 2021 Feb.


Spatio-temporal patterns of melanocytic proliferations observed in vivo are important for diagnosis but the mechanisms that produce them are poorly understood. Here we present an agent-based model for simulating the emergence of the main biologic patterns found in melanocytic proliferations. Our model portrays the extracellular matrix of the dermo-epidermal junction as a two-dimensional manifold and we simulate cellular migration in terms of geometric translations driven by adhesive, repulsive and random forces. Abstracted cellular functions and melanocyte-matrix interactions are modeled as stochastic events. For identification and validation we use visual renderings of simulated cell populations in a horizontal perspective that reproduce growth patterns observed in vivo by sequential dermatoscopy and corresponding vertical views that reproduce the arrangement of melanocytes observed in histopathologic sections. Our results show that a balanced interplay of proliferation and migration produces the typical reticular pattern of nevi, whereas the globular pattern involves additional cellular mechanisms. We further demonstrate that slight variations in the three basic cellular properties proliferation, migration, and adhesion are sufficient to produce a large variety of morphological appearances of nevi. We anticipate our model to be a starting point for the reproduction of more complex scenarios that will help to establish functional connections between abstracted microscopic behavior and macroscopic patterns in all types of melanocytic proliferations including melanoma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dermoscopy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanocytes / cytology*
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Models, Biological
  • Population Dynamics
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Time Factors

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.