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Understanding cell fate selection remains a central challenge in developmental biology. We present a class of simple yet biologically-motivated mathematical models for cell differentiation that generically generate oscillations and hence suggest alternatives to the standard framework based on Waddington’s epigenetic landscape. The models allow us to suggest two generic dynamical scenarios that describe the differentiation process. In the first scenario gradual variation of a single control parameter is responsible for both entering and exiting the oscillatory regime. In the second scenario two control parameters vary: one responsible for entering, and the other for exiting the oscillatory regime. We analyse the standard repressilator and four variants of it and show the dynamical behaviours associated with each scenario. We present a thorough analysis of the associated bifurcations and argue that gene regulatory networks with these repressilator-like characteristics are promising candidates to describe
cell fate selection through an oscillatory process.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20210442
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Royal Society, Interface
Issue number183
Early online date6 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2021


  • Stem cell
  • multipotency
  • gene expression
  • gene regulatory network
  • differentiation
  • oscillation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Modelling and Simulation


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