**ABSTRACT**:

#### Background

Long-range oscillations of the mammalian cell proliferation rate are commonly observed both in vivo and in vitro. Such complicated dynamics are generally the result of a combination of stochastic events and deterministic regulation. Assessing the role, if any, of chaotic regulation is difficult. However, unmasking chaotic dynamics is essential for analysis of cellular processes related to proliferation rate, including metabolic activity, telomere homeostasis, gene expression, and tumor growth.

#### Methodology/principal findings

Using a simple, original, nonlinear method based on return maps, we previously found a geometrical deterministic structure coordinating such fluctuations in populations of various cell types. However, nonlinearity and determinism are only necessary conditions for chaos; they do not by themselves constitute a proof of chaotic dynamics. Therefore, we used the same analytical method to analyze the oscillations of four well-known, low-dimensional, chaotic oscillators, originally designed in diverse settings and all possibly well-adapted to model the fluctuations of cell populations: the Lorenz, Rössler, Verhulst and Duffing oscillators. All four systems also display this geometrical structure, coordinating the oscillations of one or two variables of the oscillator. No such structure could be observed in periodic or stochastic fluctuations.

#### Conclusion/significance

Theoretical models predict various cell population dynamics, from stable through periodically oscillating to a chaotic regime. Periodic and stochastic fluctuations were first described long ago in various mammalian cells, but by contrast, chaotic regulation had not previously been evidenced. The findings with our nonlinear geometrical approach are entirely consistent with the notion that fluctuations of cell populations can be chaotically controlled.