A Random Walk Approach to Transport in Tissues and Complex Media: From Microscale Descriptions to Macroscale Models

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The biological processes necessary for the development and continued survival of any organism are often strongly influenced by the transport properties of various biologically active species. The transport phenomena involved vary over multiple temporal and spatial scales, from organism-level behaviors such as the search for food, to systemic processes such as the transport of oxygen from the lungs to distant organs, down to microscopic phenomena such as the stochastic movement of proteins in a cell. Each of these processes is influenced by many interrelated factors. Identifying which factors are the most important, and how they interact to determine the overall result is a problem of great importance and interest. Experimental observations are often fit to relatively simple models, but in reality the observations are the output of complicated functions of the physicochemical, topological, and geometrical properties of a given system. Herein we use multistate continuous-time random walks and generalized master equations to model transport processes involving spatial jumps, immobilization at defined sites, and stochastic internal state changes. The underlying spatial models, which are framed as graphs, may have different classes of nodes, and walkers may have internal states that are governed by a Markov process. A general form of the solutions, using Fourier–Laplace transforms and asymptotic analysis, is developed for several spatially infinite regular lattices in one and two spatial dimensions, and the theory is developed for the analysis of transport and internal state changes on general graphs. The goal in each case is to shed light on how experimentally observable macroscale transport coefficients can be explained in terms of microscale properties of the underlying processes. This work is motivated by problems arising in transport in biological tissues, but the results are applicable to a broad class of problems that arise in other applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number92
JournalBulletin of mathematical biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported in part by NIH Grants # GM29123 and 54-CA-210190 and NSF Grants DMS # 178743 and 185357.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Society for Mathematical Biology.


  • Continuous-time random walk
  • Drosophila
  • First passage time
  • Multiscale model
  • Multistate random walk


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