Pattern formation in a coupled membrane-bulk reaction-diffusion model for intracellular polarization and oscillations
Reaction-diffusion systems have been widely used to study spatio-temporal phenomena in cell biology, such as cell polarization. Coupled bulk-surface models naturally include compartmentalization of cytosolic and membrane-bound polarity molecules. Here we study the distribution of the polarity protein Cdc42 in a mass-conserved membrane-bulk model, and explore the effects of diffusion and spatial dimensionality on spatio-temporal pattern formation. We first analyze a one-dimensional (1-D) model for Cdc42 oscillations in fission yeast, consisting of two diffusion equations in the bulk domain coupled to nonlinear ODEs for binding kinetics at each end of the cell. In 1-D, our analysis reveals the existence of symmetric and asymmetric steady states, as well as anti-phase relaxation oscillations typical of slow-fast systems. We then extend our analysis to a two-dimensional (2-D) model with circular bulk geometry, for which species can either diffuse inside the cell or become bound to the membrane and undergo a nonlinear reaction-diffusion process. We also consider a nonlocal system of PDEs approximating the dynamics of the 2-D membrane-bulk model in the limit of fast bulk diffusion. In all three model variants we find that mass conservation selects perturbations of spatial modes that simply redistribute mass. In 1-D, only anti-phase oscillations between the two ends of the cell can occur, and in-phase oscillations are excluded. In higher dimensions, no radially symmetric oscillations are observed. Instead, the only instabilities are symmetry-breaking, either corresponding to stationary Turing instabilities, leading to the formation of stationary patterns, or to oscillatory Turing instabilities, leading to traveling and standing waves. Codimension-two Bogdanov–Takens bifurcations occur when the two distinct instabilities coincide, causing traveling waves to slow down and to eventually become stationary patterns. Our work clarifies the effect of geometry and dimensionality on behaviors observed in mass-conserved cell polarity models.