The modulatory effect of cell-cell contact on the tumourigenic potential of pre-malignant epithelial cells: A computational exploration

D. C. Walker*, J. Southgate

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Malignant development cannot be attributed alone to genetic changes in a single cell, but occurs as a result of the complex interplay between the failure of cellular regulation mechanisms and the presence of a permissive microenvironment. Although E-cadherin is classified as a 'metastasis suppressor' owing to its role in intercellular adhesion, the observation that it may be downregulated at a premalignant stage is indicative of additional roles in neoplastic development. We have used an agent-based computational model to explore the emergent behaviour resulting from the interaction of single and subpopulations of E-cadherin-compromised cells with unaffected normal epithelial cells within a monolayer environment. We have extended this to investigate the importance of local tissue perturbations in the form of scratch-wounding, or ablation of randomly-dispersed normal cells, on the growth of a single cell exhibiting E-cadherin loss. Our results suggest that the microenvironment with respect to localized cell density and normal/ E-cadherin-compromised neighbours is crucial in determining whether an abnormal individual cell proliferates or remains dormant within the monolayer. These predictions raise important questions relating to the propensity for individual mutations to give rise to disease, and future experimental exploration of these will enhance our understanding of a complex, multifactorial pathological process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20120703
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number78
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2013


  • Agent-based computational model
  • E-cadherin
  • Epithelial cells
  • Intercellular adhesion

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