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Keywords:

  • adhesion complex assembly;
  • cell differentiation;
  • cell sorting;
  • morphogenesis;
  • unconventional protein transport

The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum is a simple but powerful model organism for the study of cell–cell adhesion molecules and their role in morphogenesis during development. Three adhesive systems have been characterized and studied in detail. The spatiotemporal expression of these adhesion proteins is stringently regulated, often coinciding with major shifts in the morphological complexity of development. At the onset of development, amoeboid cells express the Ca2+-dependent cell–cell adhesion molecule DdCAD-1, which initiates weak homophilic interactions between cells and assists in the recruitment of individuals into cell streams. DdCAD-1 is unique because it is synthesized as a soluble protein in the cytoplasm. It is targeted for presentation on the cell surface by an unconventional protein transport mechanism via the contractile vacuole. Concomitant with the aggregation stage is the expression of the contact sites A glycoprotein csA/gp80 and TgrC1, both of which mediate Ca2+/Mg2+-independent cell–cell adhesion. Whereas csA/gp80 is a homophilic binding protein, TgrC1 binds to a heterophilic receptor on the cell. During cell aggregation, csA/gp80 associates preferentially with lipid rafts, which facilitate the rapid assembly of adhesion complexes. TgrC1 is synthesized at low levels during aggregation and rapid accumulation occurs initially in the peripheral cells of loose mounds. The extracellular portion of TgrC1 is shed and becomes part of the extracellular matrix. Additionally, analyses of knockout mutants have revealed important biological roles played by these adhesion proteins, including size regulation, cell sorting and cell-type proportioning.