Predictability of spatio-temporal patterns in a lattice of coupled FitzHugh–Nagumo oscillators

Miriam Grace, Marc-Thorsten Hütt


In many biological systems, variability of the components can be expected to outrank statistical fluctuations in the shaping of self-organized patterns. In pioneering work in the late 1990s, it was hypothesized that a drift of cellular parameters (along a ‘developmental path’), together with differences in cell properties (‘desynchronization’ of cells on the developmental path) can establish self-organized spatio-temporal patterns (in their example, spiral waves of cAMP in a colony of Dictyostelium discoideum cells) starting from a homogeneous state. Here, we embed a generic model of an excitable medium, a lattice of diffusively coupled FitzHugh–Nagumo oscillators, into a developmental-path framework. In this minimal model of spiral wave generation, we can now study the predictability of spatio-temporal patterns from cell properties as a function of desynchronization (or ‘spread’) of cells along the developmental path and the drift speed of cell properties on the path. As a function of drift speed and desynchronization, we observe systematically different routes towards fully established patterns, as well as strikingly different correlations between cell properties and pattern features. We show that the predictability of spatio-temporal patterns from cell properties contains important information on the pattern formation process as well as on the underlying dynamical system.

  • Received December 10, 2012.
  • Accepted January 2, 2013.
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