Mathematical models of hierarchically structured cell populations under equilibrium with application to the epidermis

Nicholas J. Savill

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


There are three categories of keratinocytes in the germinative compartment of the epidermis - stem, transit-amplifying and post-mitotic. Their population structure is hierarchical. This means that stem cells differentiate into transit-amplifying cells which, after a few rounds of division, become post-mitotic cells. The cell processes of birth, differentiation, death and migration affect the composition and proliferation rate of the germinative compartment. These phenomena are quantified by various cell kinetic parameters. In this paper we derive equations that relate these parameters for different models of hierarchically structured cell populations in equilibrium. We include in the models asymmetric and symmetric division, variations in cell-cycle times, apoptosis and variation in the number of transit generations. We conclude that variation in cell-cycle times need only be considered if apoptosis is not negligible. If it is negligible, then only average cell-cycle times are needed. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict the importance of apoptosis from the available experimental data. However, the strength of its effect is determined by the other parameters, especially the fraction of cycling stem cells. We show that variation in the number of transit generations can have a potentially large effect on cell birth rate. We also show that cell birth rate does not directly depend on the mean transit-amplifying cell-cycle time, only on the mean stem cell-cycle time. We argue that 'homogeneous cell population' equations should not be used to study hierarchical cell populations as has been done in the past. Finally we argue that stem cell parameters and transit-amplifying cell parameters should not be lumped together.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalCell Proliferation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003


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