Cell differentiation is an important process in living organisms. Differentiation is mostly based on binary decisions with theprogenitor cells choosing between two specific lineages. The differentiation dynamics have both deterministic andstochastic components. Several theoretical studies suggest that cell differentiation is a bifurcation phenomenon, well-knownin dynamical systems theory. The bifurcation point has the character of a critical point with the system dynamics exhibitingspecific features in its vicinity. These include the critical slowing down, rising variance and lag-1 autocorrelation function,strong correlations between the fluctuations of key variables and non-Gaussianity in the distribution of fluctuations. Recentexperimental studies provide considerable support to the idea of criticality in cell differentiation and in other biologicalprocesses like the development of the fruit fly embryo. In this review, an elementary introduction is given to the concept ofcriticality in cell differentiation. The correspondence between the signatures of criticality and experimental observations onblood cell differentiation in mice is further highlighted.
Volume 44 | Issue 4
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