• cyanobacteria;
  • cyanophycin;
  • heterocyst;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • N2 fixation;
  • nitrogenase;
  • photosynthesis;
  • phycobilisomes;
  • synthetase

The process of N2 fixation in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 is known to occur in terminally differentiated cells called heterocysts. This study is concerned with a morphological and immunocytochemical analysis of the developing heterocysts. The heterocysts continue a developmental process after synthesis of the specialized cell wall and the formation of the proheterocyst. The initial stages were described by Wilcox et al. (1973) and designated stages 1 through 7, with stages 5–7 associated with the maturing heterocyst. We now designate a stage 8 as the postmaturation stage, based on physiological and ultrastructural evidence. Immunocytochemistry to detect the nitrogenase protein NifH and the nonribosomally synthesized polypeptide cyanophycin demonstrated a complementary accumulation of these polypeptides. Accumulation of the nitrogenase protein was greatest at stages 5 and 6 and then declined precipitously. Cyanophycin was more prevalent after late stage 6 and was primarily associated with the polar nodule (polar plug) and the neck connecting the heterocyst with the adjoining vegetative cell. We suggest that the cyanophycin-containing polar plug is a key intermediate in the storage of fixed nitrogen in the heterocyst, a result consistent with the suggestion first made by Carr (1988) that cyanophycin exists as a dynamic reservoir of fixed nitrogen within the heterocysts.