Collective cell movement is a crucial component of embryonic development. Intercellular interactions regulate collective cell movement by allowing cells to transfer information. A key question is how collective cell movement itself influences information flow produced in tissues by intercellular interactions. Here, we study the effect of collective cell movement on the synchronization of locally coupled genetic oscillators. This study is motivated by the segmentation clock in zebrafish somitogenesis, where short-range correlated movement of cells has been observed. We describe the segmentation clock tissue by a Voronoi diagram, cell movement by the force balance of self-propelled and repulsive forces between cells, the dynamics of the direction of self-propelled motion, and the synchronization of genetic oscillators by locally coupled phase oscillators. We find that movement with a correlation length of about 2 ∼ 3 cell diameters is optimal for the synchronization of coupled oscillators. Quantification of cell mixing reveals that this short-range correlation of cell movement allows cells to exchange neighbors most efficiently. Moreover, short-range correlated movement strongly destabilizes nonuniform spatial phase patterns, further promoting global synchronization. Our theoretical results suggest that collective cell movement may enhance the synchronization of the segmentation clock in zebrafish somitogenesis. More generally, collective cell movement may promote information flow in tissues by enhancing cell mixing and destabilizing spurious patterns. © 2014 Biophysical Society.
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