The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 263 - 272 (2012)

Vol 56, Issue 4

Bimodal distribution of motility and cell fate in Dictyostelium discoideum

Original Article | Published: 16 January 2012

Pavana Goury-Sistla1, Vidyanand Nanjundiah2 and Gopal Pande*,1

1Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India and 2Developmental Biology and Genetics Laboratory, Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India.


Pre-starvation amoebae of Dictyostelium discoideum exhibit random movements. Starved cells aggregate by directed movements (chemotaxis) towards cyclic AMP and differentiate into live spores or dead stalk cells. Many differences between presumptive spore and stalk cells precede differentiation. We have examined whether cell motility-related factors are also among them. Cell speeds and localisation of motility-related signalling molecules were monitored by live cell imaging and immunostaining (a) in nutrient medium during growth, (b) immediately following transfer to starvation medium and (c) in nutrient medium that was re-introduced after a brief period of starvation. Cells moved randomly under all three conditions but mean speeds increased following transfer from nutrient medium to starvation medium; the transition occurred within 15 min. The distribution of speeds in starvation medium was bimodal: about 20% of the cells moved significantly faster than the remaining 80%. The motility-related molecules F-actin, PTEN and PI3 kinase were distributed differently in slow and fast cells. Among starved cells, the calcium content of slower cells was lower than that of the faster cells. All differences reverted within 15 min after restoration of the nutrient medium. The slow/fast distinction was missing in Polysphondylium pallidum, a cellular slime mould that lacks the presumptive stalk and spore cell classes, and in the trishanku (triA-) mutant of D. discoideum, in which the classes exist but are unstable. The transition from growth to starvation triggers a spontaneous and reversible switch in the distribution of D. discoideum cell speeds. Cells whose calcium content is relatively low (known to be presumptive spore cells) move slower than those whose calcium levels are higher (known to be presumptive stalk cells). Slow and fast cells show different distributions of motility-related proteins. The switch is indicative of a bistable mechanism underlying cell motility.


differentiation, calcium, cytoskeletal organisation, bistability, cellular peristalsis

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