From cells to tissue: How cell scale heterogeneity impacts glioblastoma growth and treatment response

Jill A. Gallaher, Susan C. Massey, Andrea Hawkins-Daarud, Sonal S. Noticewala, Russell C. Rockne, Sandra K. Johnston, Luis GonzalezCuyar, Joseph Juliano, Orlando Gil, Kristin R. Swanson, Peter Canoll, Alexander R.A. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Glioblastomas are aggressive primary brain tumors known for their inter- and intratumor heterogeneity. This disease is uniformly fatal, with intratumor heterogeneity the major reason for treatment failure and recurrence. Just like the nature vs nurture debate, heterogeneity can arise from intrinsic or environmental influences. Whilst it is impossible to clinically separate observed behavior of cells from their environmental context, using a mathematical framework combined with multiscale data gives us insight into the relative roles of variation from different sources. To better understand the implications of intratumor heterogeneity on therapeutic outcomes, we created a hybrid agent-based mathematical model that captures both the overall tumor kinetics and the individual cellular behavior. We track single cells as agents, cell density on a coarser scale, and growth factor diffusion and dynamics on a finer scale over time and space. Our model parameters were fit utilizing serial MRI imaging and cell tracking data from ex vivo tissue slices acquired from a growth-factor driven glioblastoma murine model. When fitting our model to serial imaging only, there was a spectrum of equally-good parameter fits corresponding to a wide range of phenotypic behaviors. When fitting our model using imaging and cell scale data, we determined that environmental heterogeneity alone is insufficient to match the single cell data, and intrinsic heterogeneity is required to fully capture the migration behavior. The wide spectrum of in silico tumors also had a wide variety of responses to an application of an anti-proliferative treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007672
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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