Mohanty S, Jermyn KA, Early A, Kawata T, Aubry L, Ceccarelli A, Schaap P, Williams JG, Firtel RA.
Dd-STATa is a structural and functional homologue of the metazoan STAT (Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription) proteins. We show that Dd-STATa null cells exhibit several distinct developmental phenotypes. The aggregation of Dd-STATa null cells is delayed and they chemotax slowly to a cyclic AMP source, suggesting a role for Dd-STATa in these early processes. In Dd-STATa null strains, slug-like structures are formed but they have an aberrant pattern of gene expression. In such slugs, ecmB/lacZ, a marker that is normally specific for cells on the stalk cell differentiation pathway, is expressed throughout the prestalk region. Stalk cell differentiation in Dictyostelium has been proposed to be under negative control, mediated by repressor elements present in the promoters of stalk cell-specific genes. Dd-STATa binds these repressor elements in vitro and the ectopic expression of ecmB/lacZ in the null strain provides in vivo evidence that Dd-STATa is the repressor protein that regulates commitment to stalk cell differentiation. Dd-STATa null cells display aberrant behavior in a monolayer assay wherein stalk cell differentiation is induced using the stalk cell morphogen DIF. The ecmB gene, a general marker for stalk cell differentiation, is greatly overinduced by DIF in Dd-STATa null cells. Also, Dd-STATa null cells are hypersensitive to DIF for expression of ST/lacZ, a marker for the earliest stages in the differentiation of one of the stalk cell sub-types. We suggest that both these manifestations of DIF hypersensitivity in the null strain result from the balance between activation and repression of the promoter elements being tipped in favor of activation when the repressor is absent. Paradoxically, although Dd-STATa null cells are hypersensitive to the inducing effects of DIF and readily form stalk cells in monolayer assay, the Dd-STATa null cells show little or no terminal stalk cell differentiation within the slug. Dd-STATa null slugs remain developmentally arrested for several days before forming very small spore masses supported by a column of apparently undifferentiated cells. Thus, complete stalk cell differentiation appears to require at least two events: a commitment step, whereby the repression exerted by Dd-STATa is lifted, and a second step that is blocked in a Dd-STATa null organism. This latter step may involve extracellular cAMP, a known repressor of stalk cell differentiation, because Dd-STATa null cells are abnormally sensitive to the inhibitory effects of extracellular cyclic AMP.