Pericytes (PCs) wrap around endothelial cells (ECs) and perform diverse functions in physiological and pathological processes. Although molecular interactions between ECs and PCs have been extensively studied, the morphological processes at the cellular level and their underlying mechanisms have remained elusive. In this study, using a simple cellular Potts model, we explored the mechanisms for EC wrapping by PCs. Based on the observed in vitro cell wrapping in three-dimensional PC-EC coculture, the model identified four putative contributing factors: preferential adhesion of PCs to the extracellular matrix (ECM), strong cell-cell adhesion, PC surface softness and larger PC size. While cell-cell adhesion can contribute to the prevention of cell segregation and the degree of cell wrapping, it cannot determine the orientation of cell wrapping alone. While atomic force microscopy revealed that PCs have a larger Young's modulus than ECs, the experimental analyses supported preferential ECM adhesion and size asymmetry. We also formulated the corresponding energy minimization problem and numerically solved this problem for specific cases. These results give biological insights into the role of PC-ECM adhesion in PC coverage. The modelling framework presented here should also be applicable to other cell wrapping phenomena observed in vivo.
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