Cell-to-cell influence on growth in large populations

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Recent studies have revealed the importance of outlier cells in complex cellular systems. Quantifying heterogeneity in such systems may lead to a better understanding of organ engineering, microtumor growth, and disease models, as well as more precise drug design. We used the ability of quantitative phase imaging to perform long-term imaging of cell growth to estimate the “influence” of cellular clusters on their neighbors. We validated our approach by analyzing epithelial and fibroblast cultures imaged over the course of several days. Interestingly, we found that there is a significant number of cells characterized by a medium correlation between their growth rate and distance (modulus of the Pearson coefficient between 0.25-.5). Furthermore, we found a small percentage of cells exhibiting strong such correlations, which we label as “influencer” cellular clusters. Our approach might find important applications in studying dynamic phenomena, such as organogenesis and metastasis.

Chenfei Hu