The development of multicellularity in the life cycle of Dictyostelium discoideum provides a paradigm model system for biological pattern formation. Previously, mathematical models have shown how a collective pattern of cell communication by waves of the messenger molecule cyclic adenosine 3′5′-monophosphate (cAMP) arises from excitable local cAMP kinetics and cAMP diffusion. Here we derive a model of the actual cell aggregation process by considering the chemotactic cell response to cAMP and its interplay with the cAMP dynamics. Cell density, which previously has been treated as a spatially homogeneous parameter, is a crucial variable of the aggregation model. We find that the coupled dynamics of cell chemotaxis and cAMP reaction-diffusion lead to the break-up of the initially uniform cell layer and to the formation of the striking cell stream morphology which characterizes the aggregation process in situ. By a combination of stability analysis and two-dimensional simulations of the model equations, we show cell streaming to be the consequence of the growth of a small-amplitude pattern in cell density forced by the large-amplitude cAMP waves, thus representing a novel scenario of spatial patterning in a cell chemotaxis system. The instability mechanism is further analysed by means of an analytic caricature of the model, and the condition for chemotaxis-driven instability is found to be very similar to the one obtained for the standard (non-oscillatory) Keller-Segel system. The growing cell stream pattern feeds back into the cAMP dynamics, which can explain in some detail experimental observations on the time evolution of the cAMP wave pattern, and suggests the characterization of the Dictyostelium aggregation field as a self-organized excitable medium
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