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Frustration-induced phases in migrating cell clusters.


Certain malignant cancer cells form clusters in a chemoattractant gradient, which can spontaneously show three different phases of motion: translational, rotational, and random. Guided by our experiments on the motion of two-dimensional clusters in vitro, we developed an agent-based model in which the cells form a cohesive cluster due to attractive and alignment interactions. We find that when cells at the cluster rim are more motile, all three phases of motion coexist, in agreement with our observations. Using the model, we show that the transitions between different phases are driven by competition between an ordered rim and a disordered core accompanied by the creation and annihilation of topological defects in the velocity field. The model makes specific predictions, which we verify with our experimental data. Our results suggest that heterogeneous behavior of individuals, based on local environment, can lead to novel, experimentally observed phases of collective motion.

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