Unequal cell division, growth regulation and colony size of mammalian cells: A mathematical model and analysis of experimental data

Marek Kimmel, David E. Axelrod

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30 Scopus citations


This work describes mathematically the dynamics of expansion of cell populations from the initial division of single cells to colonies of several hundred cells. This stage of population growth is strongly influenced by stochastic (random) elements including, among others, cell death and quiescence. This results in a wide distribution of colony sizes. Experimental observations of the NIH3T3 cell line as well as for the NIH3T3 cell line transformed with the ras oncogene were obtained for this study. They include the number of cells in 4-day-old colonies initiated from single cells and measurements of sizes of sister cells after division, recorded in the 4-day-old colonies. The sister cell sizes were recorded in a way which enabled investigation of their interdependence. We developed a mathematical model which includes cell growth and unequal cell division, with three possible outcomes of each cell division: continued cell growth and division, quiescence, and cell death. The model is successful in reproducing experimental observations. It provides good fits to colony size distributions for both NIH3T3 mouse fibroblast cells and the same cells transformed with the rasEJ human cancer gene. The difference in colony size distributions could be fitted by assuming similar cell lifetimes (12-13 hr) and similar probabilities of cell death (q = 0·15), but using different probabilities of quiescence, r = 0 for the ras oncogene transformed cells and r = 0·1 for the non-transformed cells. The model also reproduces the evolution of distributions of sizes of cells in colonies, from a single founder cell of any specified size to the stable limit distribution after eight to ten cell divisions. Application of the model explains in what way both random events and deterministic control mechanisms strongly influence cell proliferation at early stages in the expansion of colonies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-180
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 21 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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