The moving boundary node method: A level set-based, finite volume algorithm with applications to cell motility

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Eukaryotic cell crawling is a highly complex biophysical and biochemical process, where deformation and motion of a cell are driven by internal, biochemical regulation of a poroelastic cytoskeleton. One challenge to built quantitative models that describe crawling cells is solving the reaction-diffusion-advection dynamics for the biochemical and cytoskeletal components of the cell inside its moving and deforming geometry. Here we develop an algorithm that uses the level set method to move the cell boundary and uses information stored in the distance map to construct a finite volume representation of the cell. Our method preserves Cartesian connectivity of nodes in the finite volume representation while resolving the distorted cell geometry. Derivatives approximated using a Taylor series expansion at finite volume interfaces lead to second order accuracy even on highly distorted quadrilateral elements. A modified, Laplacian-based interpolation scheme is developed that conserves mass while interpolating values onto nodes that join the cell interior as the boundary moves. An implicit time stepping algorithm is used to maintain stability. We use the algorithm to simulate two simple models for cellular crawling. The first model uses depolymerization of the cytoskeleton to drive cell motility and suggests that the shape of a steady crawling cell is strongly dependent on the adhesion between the cell and the substrate. In the second model, we use a model for chemical signalling during chemotaxis to determine the shape of a crawling cell in a constant gradient and to show cellular response upon gradient reversal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7287-7308
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
Issue number19
StatePublished - 2010


  • Cell motility
  • Diffusion
  • Finite volume
  • Level set
  • Moving boundaries
  • Numeric method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'The moving boundary node method: A level set-based, finite volume algorithm with applications to cell motility'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this