, Volume 44, Issue 3-4, pp 271-282

A mechanical model for the formation of vascular networks in vitro

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Endothelial cells, when cultured on gelled basement membrane matrix exert forces of tension through which they deform the matrix and at the same time they aggregate into clusters. The cells eventually form a network of cord-like structures connecting cell aggregates. In this network, almost all of the matrix has been pulled underneath the cell cords and cell clusters. This phenomenon has been proposed as a possible model for the growth and development of planar vascular systems in vitro. Our hypothesis is that the matrix is reorganized and the cellular networks form as a result of traction forces exerted by the cells on the matrix and the latter's elasticity. We construct and analyze a mathematical model based on this hypothesis and examine conditions necessary for the formation of the pattern. We show cell migration is not necessary for pattern formation and that isotropic, strain-stimulated traction is sufficient to form the observed patterns.