Original Article

Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 74, Issue 11, pp 2570-2599

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Deterministic Versus Stochastic Cell Polarisation Through Wave-Pinning

  • Georg R. WaltherAffiliated withComputational & Systems Biology, John Innes Centre
  • , Athanasius F. M. MaréeAffiliated withComputational & Systems Biology, John Innes Centre
  • , Leah Edelstein-KeshetAffiliated withMathematics Department, The University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Verônica A. GrieneisenAffiliated withComputational & Systems Biology, John Innes Centre Email author 


Cell polarization is an important part of the response of eukaryotic cells to stimuli, and forms a primary step in cell motility, differentiation, and many cellular functions. Among the important biochemical players implicated in the onset of intracellular asymmetries that constitute the early phases of polarization are the Rho GTPases, such as Cdc42, Rac, and Rho, which present high active concentration levels in a spatially localized manner. Rho GTPases exhibit positive feedback-driven interconversion between distinct active and inactive forms, the former residing on the cell membrane, and the latter predominantly in the cytosol. A deterministic model of the dynamics of a single Rho GTPase described earlier by Mori et al. exhibits sustained polarization by a wave-pinning mechanism. It remained, however, unclear how such polarization behaves at typically low cellular concentrations, as stochasticity could significantly affect the dynamics. We therefore study the low copy number dynamics of this model, using a stochastic kinetics framework based on the Gillespie algorithm, and propose statistical and analytic techniques which help us analyse the equilibrium behaviour of our stochastic system. We use local perturbation analysis to predict parameter regimes for initiation of polarity and wave-pinning in our deterministic system, and compare these predictions with deterministic and stochastic spatial simulations. Comparing the behaviour of the stochastic with the deterministic system, we determine the threshold number of molecules required for robust polarization in a given effective reaction volume. We show that when the molecule number is lowered wave-pinning behaviour is lost due to an increasingly large transition zone as well as increasing fluctuations in the pinning position, due to which a broadness can be reached that is unsustainable, causing the collapse of the wave, while the variations in the high and low equilibrium levels are much less affected.


Rho GTPase Polarization Wave-pinning Stochastic model Local perturbation analysis