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A Third Measure-Metastable State in the Dynamics of Spontaneous Shape Change in Healthy Human’s White Cells

PLoS Computational Biology 7(4)
Selz, K.A. Fetzer Franklin Laboratory of the Cielo Institute,
Asheville, North Carolina, USA

Emory University School of Medicine,
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
2011 Biology

Human polymorphonuclear leucocytes, PMN, are highly motile cells with average 12-15 µm diameters and prominent, loboid nuclei. They are produced in the bone marrow, are essential for host defense, and are the most populous of white blood cell types. PMN also participate in acute and chronic inflammatory processes, in the regulation of the immune response, in angiogenesis, and interact with tumors. To accommodate these varied functions, their behavior is adaptive, but still definable in terms of a set of behavioral states. PMN morphodynamics have generally involved a non-equilibrium stationary, spheroid Idling state that transitions to an activated, ellipsoid translocating state in response to chemical signals.

These two behavioral shape-states, spheroid and ellipsoid, are generally recognized as making up the vocabulary of a healthy PMN. A third, “random” state has occasionally been reported as associated with disease states. I have observed this third, Treadmilling state, in PMN from healthy subjects, the cells demonstrating metastable dynamical behaviors known to anticipate phase transitions in mathematical, physical, and biological systems. For this study, human PMN were microscopically imaged and analyzed as single living cells.

I used a microscope with a novel high aperture, cardioid annular condenser with better than 100 nanometer resolution of simultaneous, mixed dark field and intrinsic fluorescent images to record shape changes in 189 living PMNs. Relative radial roundness, R(t), served as a computable order parameter. Comparison of R(t) series of 10 cells in the Idling and 10 in the Treadmilling state reveals the robustness of the “random” appearing Treadmilling state, and the emergence of behaviors observed in the neighborhood of global state transitions, including increased correlation length and variance (divergence), sudden jumps, mixed phases, bimodality, power spectral scaling and temporal slowing. Wavelet transformation of an R(t) series of an Idling to Treadmilling state change, demonstrated behaviors concomitant with the observed transition.

The article was first published in: PLoS Computational Biology 7(4): e1001117.

Full article

This work was supported (in part) by the Fetzer Franklin Fund of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust.