Mathematical model of adult stem cell regeneration with cross-talk between genetic and epigenetic regulation

Jinzhi Lei, Simon Asher Levin, Qing Nie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Adult stem cells, which exist throughout the body, multiply by cell division to replenish dying cells or to promote regeneration to repair damaged tissues. To perform these functions during the lifetime of organs or tissues, stem cells need to maintain their populations in a faithful distribution of their epigenetic states, which are susceptible to stochastic fluctuations during each cell division, unexpected injury, and potential genetic mutations that occur during many cell divisions. However, it remains unclear how the three processes of differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis in regulating stem cells collectively manage these challenging tasks. Here, without considering molecular details, we propose a genetic optimal control model for adult stem cell regeneration that includes the three fundamental processes, along with cell division and adaptation based on differential fitnesses of phenotypes. In the model, stem cells with a distribution of epigenetic states are required to maximize expected performance after each cell division. We show that heterogeneous proliferation that depends on the epigenetic states of stem cells can improve the maintenance of stem cell distributions to create balanced populations. A control strategy during each cell division leads to a feedback mechanism involving heterogeneous proliferation that can accelerate regeneration with less fluctuation in the stem cell population. When mutation is allowed, apoptosis evolves to maximize the performance during homeostasis after multiple cell divisions. The overall results highlight the importance of cross-talk between genetic and epigenetic regulation and the performance objectives during homeostasis in shaping a desirable heterogeneous distribution of stem cells in epigenetic states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E880-E887
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 11 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Dynamic programming
  • Fitness function
  • Optimization
  • Robustness
  • Systems biology


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