The activation, growth and death of animal cells are accompanied by changes in the chemical composition of the surrounding environment. Cells and their microscopic environment constitute therefore a cellular ecosystem whose time-evolution determines processes of interest for either biology (e.g. animal development) and medicine (e.g. tumor spreading, immune response). In this paper, we consider a general stochastic model of the interplay between cells and environmental cellular niches. Niches may be either favourable or unfavourable in sustaining cell activation, growth and death, the state of the niches depending on the state of the cells. Under the hypothesis of random coupling between the state of the environmental niche and the state of the cell, the rescaled model reduces to a set of four non-linear differential equations. The biological meaning of the model is studied and illustrated by fitting experimental data on the growth of multicellular tumor spheroids. A detailed analysis of the stochastic model, of its deterministic limit, and of normal fluctuations is provided.
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