Signalling and sex in the social amoebozoans




The social amoebozoans have a life tricycle consisting of asexual multicellular development leading to fruiting bodies, sexual multicellular development resulting in macrocysts, and unicellular development generating microcysts. This review covers the events of sexual development in the best-studied heterothallic (Dictyostelium discoideum) and homothallic (D. mucoroides) mating systems. Sexual development begins with pheromonal interactions that produce fusion-competent cells (gametes) which undergo cell and pronuclear fusion. Calcium- and calmodulin-mediated signalling mediates these early events. As they initiate chemotactic signalling, each zygote increases in size becoming a zygote giant cell. Using cyclic AMP (cAMP), the zygote chemotactically lures in amoebae and engulfs them in an act of cannibalistic phagocytosis. Chemotaxis proceeds more quickly than endocytosis because the breakdown products of cAMP (5-AMP, adenosine) bind to a presumptive adenosine receptor to inhibit sexual phagocytosis. This slowing of phagocytosis allows amoebae to accumulate around the zygote to form a precyst aggregate. Zygote giant cells also produce several other signalling molecules that feed back to regulate early events. The amoebae surrounding the zygote seal their fate as zygotic foodstuff by secreting a primary cellulose wall, the extracellular sheath, around the zygote and aggregated amoebae, which prevents their escape. Phagocytosis within this precyst continues until all peripheral amoebae are internalized as endocytes and the final macrocyst wall is formed. Endocyte digestion results in a mature macrocyst with a uniform cytoplasm containing a diploid nucleus. After detailing the morphological events of heterothallic and homothallic mating, we review the various intercellular signalling events and other mechanisms involved in each stage. This complete and comprehensive review sets the stage for future research on the unique events that characterize sex in the social amoebozoans.