Although positional information, conveyed by morphogen gradients, is a widely accepted way of forming patterns during development, an alternative method is conceivable, based on the intermingled differentiation of cells with different fates, followed by their sorting into discrete pattern elements. It has been proposed that Dictyostelium prestalk and prespore cells behave in this way at the mound stage of development. However, it has been difficult to conclusively demonstrate that they initially differentiate intermingled, because rapid cell movement within the mound makes it impossible to be sure where prestalk and prespore cells originate. We have taken a novel approach to address this problem by blocking cell movement at different stages in development, using the actin-depolymerizing drug, latrunculin-A. Prestalk and prespore cells differentiate with essentially normal efficiency and timing in such paralyzed structures. When movement is blocked sufficiently early, the major cell types all subsequently differentiate at scattered positions throughout the aggregate, and even in the streams leading into it. Our work strongly supports the idea that the prestalk/prespore pattern in Dictyostelium forms without positional information and demonstrate that latrunculin-A may provide a useful tool for the investigation of patterning in other organisms.
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