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Regulation of aggregate size and pattern by adenosine and caffeine in cellular slime molds

Pundrik Jaiswal1, Thierry Soldati2, Sascha Thewes3 and Ramamurthy Baskar1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Chennai-600036, India

2 Département de Biochimie, Faculté des Sciences, Université de Genève, Sciences II, 30 quai Ernest Ansermet, CH-1211 Genève-4, Switzerland

3 Institute for Biology-Microbiology; Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy; Freie Universität Berlin; D-14195 Berlin, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Developmental Biology 2012, 12:5  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-12-5

Published: 23 January 2012



Multicellularity in cellular slime molds is achieved by aggregation of several hundreds to thousands of cells. In the model slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum, adenosine is known to increase the aggregate size and its antagonist caffeine reduces the aggregate size. However, it is not clear if the actions of adenosine and caffeine are evolutionarily conserved among other slime molds known to use structurally unrelated chemoattractants. We have examined how the known factors affecting aggregate size are modulated by adenosine and caffeine.


Adenosine and caffeine induced the formation of large and small aggregates respectively, in evolutionarily distinct slime molds known to use diverse chemoattractants for their aggregation. Due to its genetic tractability, we chose D. discoideum to further investigate the factors affecting aggregate size. The changes in aggregate size are caused by the effect of the compounds on several parameters such as cell number and size, cell-cell adhesion, cAMP signal relay and cell counting mechanisms. While some of the effects of these two compounds are opposite to each other, interestingly, both compounds increase the intracellular glucose level and strengthen cell-cell adhesion. These compounds also inhibit the synthesis of cAMP phosphodiesterase (PdsA), weakening the relay of extracellular cAMP signal. Adenosine as well as caffeine rescue mutants impaired in stream formation (pde4- and pdiA-) and colony size (smlA- and ctnA-) and restore their parental aggregate size.


Adenosine increased the cell division timings thereby making large number of cells available for aggregation and also it marginally increased the cell size contributing to large aggregate size. Reduced cell division rates and decreased cell size in the presence of caffeine makes the aggregates smaller than controls. Both the compounds altered the speed of the chemotactic amoebae causing a variation in aggregate size. Our data strongly suggests that cytosolic glucose and extracellular cAMP levels are the other major determinants regulating aggregate size and pattern. Importantly, the aggregation process is conserved among different lineages of cellular slime molds despite using unrelated signalling molecules for aggregation.