The terminal differentiation of Dictyostelium discoideum cells plated as monolayers with cyclic AMP is dramatically affected by developmental buffer conditions. High pH and addition of weak bases induces spore differentiation while low pH and weak acids favour stalk cell formation. In order to analyse the timing and nature of this regulation we have raised and characterized an anti-stalk serum which we have used together with an anti-spore serum to monitor developmental progression in the monolayer system and to detect the phenotypic effects of pH at earlier stages of development. The stalk serum detects both polysaccharide and protein antigens expressed during the terminal stages of normal development. In monolayer culture, the stalk-specific protein antigen appears precociously, while the timing of prespore vacuole appearance is unaffected. Expression of stalk polysaccharide antigens in monolayer cultures occurs as early as 12 h and is localized in a single subset of cells or region of extracellular space within the small cell clumps that form. The effects of pH (and acid/base) on these phenotype-specific antigens can be detected early in development, shortly after their first appearance. In monolayers of wild-type V12 M2 cells, the low pH regimes appear to act more by suppressing the spore than enhancing the stalk pathway, while the high pH regimes both suppress stalk and enhance spore antigen expression. In monolayers of the sporogenous mutant HM29, low pH regimes both enhance stalk antigen and suppress spore antigen expression. These results show that extracellular pH regulates phenotypic expression during a large part of the differentiation process and is not simply restricted to terminal cytodifferentiation.

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