Replicative cellular age distributions in compartmentalized tissues

Marvin A. Böttcher, David Dingli, Benjamin Werner, Arne Traulsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The cellular age distribution of hierarchically organized tissues can reveal important insights into the dynamics of cell differentiation and self-renewal and associated cancer risks. Here, we examine the effect of progenitor compartments with varying differentiation and self-renewal capacities on the resulting observable distributions of replicative cellular ages. We find that strongly amplifying progenitor compartments, i.e. compartments with high self-renewal capacities, substantially broaden the age distributions which become skewed towards younger cells with a long tail of few old cells. For several of these strongly amplifying compartments, the age distribution becomes virtually independent of the influx from the stem cell compartment. By contrast, if tissues are organized into many downstream compartments with low self-renewal capacity, the shape of the replicative cell distribution in more differentiated compartments is dominated by stem cell dynamics with little added variation. In the limiting case of a strict binary differentiation tree without self-renewal, the shape of the output distribution becomes indistinguishable from that of the input distribution. Our results suggest that a comparison of cellular age distributions between healthy and cancerous tissues may inform about dynamical changes within the hierarchical tissue structure, i.e. an acquired increased self-renewal capacity in certain tumours. Furthermore, we compare our theoretical results to telomere length distributions in granulocyte populations of 10 healthy individuals across different ages, highlighting that our theoretical expectations agree with experimental observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180272
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number145
StatePublished - 2018


  • Compartment model
  • Hierarchical tissues
  • Mathematical models
  • Replicative ageing
  • Telomere loss
  • Tissue ageing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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