SUMMARY: The duration of a morphological phase of the cell cycle is reflected in the steady state distribution of the sizes of cells in that phase. Relationships presented here provide a method for estimating the timing and variability of any cell cycle phase. It is shown that the mean size of cells initiating and finishing any phase can be estimated from (1) the frequency of cells exhibiting the distinguishing morphological or autoradiographic features of the phase; (2) the mean size of cells in the phase; and (3) their coefficient of variation. The calculations are based on a submodel of the Koch-Schaechter Growth Controlled Model which assumes that (i) the distribution of division sizes is Gaussian; (ii) there is no correlation in division sizes between successive generations; and (iii) every cell division gives rise to two daughter cells of equal size. The calculations should be useful for a wider range of models, however, because the extrapolation factors are not sensitive to the chosen model. Criteria are proposed to allow the user to check the method's applicability for any experimental case.

The method also provides a more efficient test of the dependence of growth on cell size than does the Collins-Richmond method. This is because the method uses the mean and coefficient of variation of the size of the total population, in conjunction with those of the cells in a final phase of the cell cycle, to test potential growth laws. For populations studied by electron microscopy, an exponential growth model provided much better agreement than did a linear growth model.

The computer simulations were used to generate rules for three types of cell phases: those that end at cell division, those that start at cell division, and those totally contained within a single cell cycle. For the last type, additional criteria are proposed to establish if the phase is well enough contained for the formulae and graphs to be used. The most useful rule emerging from these computer studies is that the fraction of the cell cycle time occupied by a phase is the product of the frequency of the phase and the ratio of the mean size of cells in that phase to the mean size of all cells in the population.

A further advantage of the techniques presented here is that they use the ‘extant’ distributions that were actually measured, and not hypothesized distributions nor the special distributions needed for the Collins--Richmond method that can only be calculated from the observed distributions of dividing or newborn cells on the basis of an assumed growth law.


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