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Mathematical analysis of steady-state solutions in compartment and continuum models of cell polarization

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  • Cell polarization, in which substances previously uniformly distributed become asymmetric due to external or/and internal stimulation, is a fundamental process underlying cell mobility, cell division, and other polarized functions. The yeast cell S. cerevisiae has been a model system to study cell polarization. During mating, yeast cells sense shallow external spatial gradients and respond by creating steeper internal gradients of protein aligned with the external cue. The complex spatial dynamics during yeast mating polarization consists of positive feedback, degradation, global negative feedback control, and cooperative effects in protein synthesis. Understanding such complex regulations and interactions is critical to studying many important characteristics in cell polarization including signal amplification, tracking dynamic signals, and potential trade-off between achieving both objectives in a robust fashion. In this paper, we study some of these questions by analyzing several models with different spatial complexity: two compartments, three compartments, and continuum in space. The step-wise approach allows detailed characterization of properties of the steady state of the system, providing more insights for biological regulations during cell polarization. For cases without membrane diffusion, our study reveals that increasing the number of spatial compartments results in an increase in the number of steady-state solutions, in particular, the number of stable steady-state solutions, with the continuum models possessing infinitely many steady-state solutions. Through both analysis and simulations, we find that stronger positive feedback, reduced diffusion, and a shallower ligand gradient all result in more steady-state solutions, although most of these are not optimally aligned with the gradient. We explore in the different settings the relationship between the number of steady-state solutions and the extent and accuracy of the polarization. Taken together these results furnish a detailed description of the factors that influence the tradeoff between a single correctly aligned but poorly polarized stable steady-state solution versus multiple more highly polarized stable steady-state solutions that may be incorrectly aligned with the external gradient.
    Mathematics Subject Classification: 92C15, 92C37, 34D23.


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