Evolutionary reconstruction of pattern formation in 98 Dictyostelium species reveals that cell-type specialization by lateral inhibition is a derived trait

Christina Schilde, Anna Skiba, Pauline Schaap (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    27 Citations (Scopus)



    Multicellularity provides organisms with opportunities for cell-type specialization, but requires novel mechanisms to position correct proportions of different cell types throughout the organism. Dictyostelid social amoebas display an early form of multicellularity, where amoebas aggregate to form fruiting bodies, which contain only spores or up to four additional cell-types. These cell types will form the stalk and support structures for the stalk and spore head. Phylogenetic inference subdivides Dictyostelia into four major groups, with the model organism D. discoideum residing in group 4. In D. discoideum differentiation of its five cell types is dominated by lateral inhibition-type mechanisms that trigger scattered cell differentiation, with tissue patterns being formed by cell sorting.

    To reconstruct the evolution of pattern formation in Dictyostelia, we used cell-type specific antibodies and promoter-reporter fusion constructs to investigate pattern formation in 98 species that represent all groupings. Our results indicate that in all early diverging Dictyostelia and most members of groups 1–3, cells differentiate into maximally two cell types, prestalk and prespore cells, with pattern formation being dominated by position-dependent transdifferentiation of prespore cells into prestalk cells. In clade 2A, prestalk and stalk cell differentiation are lost and the prespore cells construct an acellular stalk. Group 4 species set aside correct proportions of prestalk and prespore cells early in development, and differentiate into up to three more supporting cell types.

    Our experiments show that positional transdifferentiation is the ancestral mode of pattern formation in Dictyostelia. The early specification of a prestalk population equal to the number of stalk cells is a derived trait that emerged in group 4 and a few late diverging species in the other groups. Group 4 spore masses are larger than those of other groups and the differentiation of supporting cell types by lateral inhibition may have facilitated this increase in size. The signal DIF-1, which is secreted by prespore cells, triggers differentiation of supporting cell types. The synthesis and degradation of DIF-1 were shown to be restricted to group 4. This suggests that the emergence of DIF-1 signalling caused increased cell-type specialization in this group.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number34
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


    • Evolution of multicellularity
    • lateral inhibition
    • cell sorting
    • position-dependent cell-type specification
    • evolutionary reconstruction
    • DIF-1 signalling
    • Dictyostelium


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