A unified rheological model for cells and cellularised materials
The mechanical response of single cells and tissues exhibits a broad distribution of time scales that gives often rise to a distinctive power-law regime. Such complex behaviour cannot be easily captured by traditional rheological approaches, making material characterisation and predictive modelling very challenging. Here, we present a novel model combining conventional viscoelastic elements with fractional calculus that successfully captures the macroscopic relaxation response of epithelial
... layers. The parameters extracted from the fitting of the relaxation modulus allow prediction of the response of the same material to slow stretch and creep, indicating that the model captured intrinsic material properties. Two characteristic times can be derived from the model parameters, and together these explain different qualitative behaviours observed in creep after genetic and chemical treatments. We compared the response of tissues with the behaviour of single cells as well as intra-cellular and extra-cellular components, and linked the power-law behaviour of the epithelium to the dynamics of the cell cortex. Such a unified model for the mechanical response of biological materials provides a novel and robust mathematical approach for diagnostic methods based on mechanical traits as well as more accurate computational models of tissues mechanics.