Archives of Microbiology

, 192:23 | Cite as

Early candidacy for differentiation into heterocysts in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120

  • Masakazu Toyoshima
  • Naobumi V. Sasaki
  • Makoto Fujiwara
  • Shigeki Ehira
  • Masayuki Ohmori
  • Naoki Sato
Original Paper


The filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 fixes dinitrogen facultatively. Upon depletion of combined nitrogen, about 10% of vegetative cells within the filaments differentiate terminally into nitrogen-fixing cells. The heterocyst has been studied as a model system of prokaryotic cell differentiation, with major focus on signal transduction and pattern formation. The fate of heterocyst differentiation is determined at about the eighth hour of induction (point of no return), well before conspicuous morphological or metabolic changes occur. However, little is known about how the initial heterocysts are selected after the induction by nitrogen deprivation. To address this question, we followed the fate of every cells on agar plates after nitrogen deprivation with an interval of 4 h. About 10% of heterocysts were formed without prior division after the start of nitrogen deprivation. The intensity of fluorescence of GFP in the transformants of hetR-gfp increased markedly in the future heterocysts at the fourth hour with respect to other cells. We also noted that the growing filaments consisted of clusters of four consecutive cells that we call quartets. About 75% of initial heterocysts originated from either of the two outer cells of quartets at the start of nitrogen deprivation. These results suggest that the future heterocysts are loosely selected at early times after the start of nitrogen deprivation, before the commitment. Such early candidacy could be explained by different properties of the outer and inner cells of a quartet, but the molecular nature of candidacy remains to be uncovered.


Filamentous cyanobacteria Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 Heterocyst candidacy Differentiation Cell lineage Cell division Pattern formation Frequently iterated observation Spatial periodicity Quartet 



Green fluorescent protein


Heterocyst lineage description system


Maximum entropy method



This work was supported in part by Grants-in-Aid from MEXT (17018010, 18017005, 20017006) and JSPS (16GS00304), Japan, to N. S, a Grant-in-Aid from JSPS (2011425) to N. V. S, and Global COE Program (Integrative Life Science Based on the Study of Biosignaling Mechanisms), MEXT, Japan to M. T.

Supplementary material

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DOC 5213 kb


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Masakazu Toyoshima
    • 1
  • Naobumi V. Sasaki
    • 1
  • Makoto Fujiwara
    • 1
  • Shigeki Ehira
    • 2
  • Masayuki Ohmori
    • 2
  • Naoki Sato
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and SciencesUniversity of TokyoMeguro-kuJapan
  2. 2.Department of Biological Science, Faculty of Science and EngineeringChuo UniversityBunkyo-kuJapan

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