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Eur J Cell Biol. 2001 Jun;80(6):428-41.

Inhibition of multicellular development switches cell death of Dictyostelium discoideum towards mammalian-like unicellular apoptosis.

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Laboratoire de Physicochimie Biomoléculaire et Cellulaire, CNRS ESA 7033, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France.


The multicellular development of the single celled eukaryote Dictyostelium discoideum is induced by starvation and consists of initial aggregation of the isolated amoebae, followed by their differentiation into viable spores and dead stalk cells. These stalk cells retain their structural integrity inside a stalk tube that support the spores in the fruiting body. Terminal differentiation into stalk cells has been shown to share several features with programmed cell death (Cornillon et al. (1994), J. Cell Sci. 107, 2691-2704). Here we report that, in the absence of aggregation and differentiation, D. discoideum can undergo another form of programmed cell death that closely resembles apoptosis of most mammalian cells, involves loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential, phosphatidylserine surface exposure, and engulfment of dying cells by neighboring D. discoideum cells. This death has been studied by various techniques (light microscopy and scanning or transmission electron microscopy, flow cytometry, DNA electrophoresis), in two different conditions inhibiting D. discoideum multicellular development. The first one, corresponding to an induced unicellular cell death, was obtained by starving the cells in a "conditioned" cell-free buffer, prepared by previous starvation of another D. discoideum cell population in potassium phosphate buffer (pH 6.8). The second one, corresponding to death of D. discoideum after axenic growth in suspension, was obtained by keeping stationary cells in their culture medium. In both cases of these unicellular-specific cell deaths, microscopy revealed morphological features known as hallmarks of apoptosis for higher eukaryotic cells and apoptosis was further corroborated by flow cytometry. The occurrence in D. discoideum of programmed cell death with two different phenotypes, depending on its multicellular or unicellular status, is further discussed.

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