Symbiotic Cell Differentiation and Cooperative Growth in Multicellular Aggregates

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As cells grow and divide under a given environment, they become crowded and resources are limited, as seen in bacterial biofilms and multicellular aggregates. These cells often show strong interactions through exchanging chemicals, as evident in quorum sensing, to achieve mutualism and division of labor. Here, to achieve stable division of labor, three characteristics are required. First, isogenous cells differentiate into several types. Second, this aggregate of distinct cell types shows better growth than that of isolated cells without interaction and differentiation, by achieving division of labor. Third, this cell aggregate is robust with respect to the number distribution of differentiated cell types. Indeed, theoretical studies have thus far considered how such cooperation is achieved when the ability of cell differentiation is presumed. Here, we address how cells acquire the ability of cell differentiation and division of labor simultaneously, which is also connected with the robustness of a cell society. For this purpose, we developed a dynamical-systems model of cells consisting of chemical components with intracellular catalytic reaction dynamics. The reactions convert external nutrients into internal components for cellular growth, and the divided cells interact through chemical diffusion. We found that cells sharing an identical catalytic network spontaneously differentiate via induction from cell-cell interactions, and then achieve division of labor, enabling a higher growth rate than that in the unicellular case. This symbiotic differentiation emerged for a class of reaction networks under the condition of nutrient limitation and strong cell-cell interactions. Then, robustness in the cell type distribution was achieved, while instability of collective growth could emerge even among the cooperative cells when the internal reserves of products were dominant. The present mechanism is simple and general as a natural consequence of interacting cells with limited resources, and is consistent with the observed behaviors and forms of several aggregates of unicellular organisms.




Yamagishi, J. F., Saito, N., & Kaneko, K. (2016). Symbiotic Cell Differentiation and Cooperative Growth in Multicellular Aggregates. PLoS Computational Biology, 12(10).

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