Remeshing flexible membranes under the control of free energy

Xinxin Wang, Gaudenz Danuser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cell membranes are flexible and often undergo large-scale morphological changes during processes like mitosis, protrusion and retraction, or vesicle fusion. Mathematical modeling of cell membranes depends on a representation of the free-form surface by discrete meshes. During morphological changes, these meshes must be adjusted under the minimization of the total free energy. Current methodology for meshing is limited in one of two ways: 1) Free energy-dependent methods have no restriction on the mesh geometry. The resulting irregular meshes cause artifacts in follow-up models of morphodynamics. 2) Geometry-dependent methods maintain mesh quality but violate the physics of free energy minimization. To fill this gap, we regulate mesh geometries via a free-energy-determined remeshing process: adding and removing mesh elements upon morphological changes based on barrier crossings in a double-barrier potential between neighboring vertices in the meshes. We test the method’s robustness by reproducing the morphodynamics of red blood cells and vesicle fusions; and we demonstrate the method’s adaptability by simulating the formation of filopodia, lamellipodia and invaginations. Finally, we use the method to study a mechanical decoupling effect of two connected membrane tethers that has been recently observed experimentally, but has not been mechanistically explained in the context of a complete membrane surface. We propose a biophysical model that strengthens the decoupling effect and broadens the original interpretation of the experiment. The method is developed in C/Matlab and distributed via

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1010766
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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