Aggregation in the cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum is due to chemotaxis. The chemoattractant, cyclic AMP, is synthesised and released periodically by the cells. Externally applied periodic pulses of cyclic AMP can also induce differentiation in this organism. The present work examines the role of periodicity per se in cyclic AMP-mediated stimulation of cell differentiation. For this purpose we use Agip53, a Dictyostelium mutant which does not develop beyond the vegetative state but can be made to aggregate and differentiate by reiterated applications of cyclic AMP. Importantly, Agip53 cells do not make or release any cyclic AMP themselves even in response to an increase in extracellular cyclic AMP. A comparison of the relative efficiencies of periodic and aperiodic stimulation shows that whereas the two patterns of stimulation are equally effective in inducing the formation of EDTA-stable cell contacts, periodic stimuli are significantly superior for inducing terminal differentiation. This suggests that there must be molecular pathways which can only function when stimulation occurs at regular intervals.

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