Conversion of the three mapped threonine phosphorylation sites in the myosin II heavy chain tail to alanines results in a mutant (3XALA) in Dictyostelium discoideum, which displays constitutive myosin overassembly in the cytoskeleton and increased cortical tension. To assess the importance of myosin phosphorylation in cellular translocation and chemotaxis, 3XALA mutant cells have been analyzed by 2D and 3D computer-assisted methods in buffer, in a spatial gradient of cAMP, and after the rapid addition of cAMP. 3XALA cells crawling in buffer exhibit distinct abnormalities in cellular shape, the maintenance of polarity and the complexity of the pseudopod perimeter. 3XALA cells crawling in buffer also exhibit a decrease in directionality. In a spatial gradient of cAMP, the behavioral defects are accentuated. In a spatial gradient, 3XALA cells exhibit a repeating 1- to 2-min behavior cycle in which the shape of each cell changes abnormally from elongate to extremely wide with lateral, opposing pseudopods. At the end of each cycle, 3XALA cells turn 90 degrees into the left or right lateral pseudopod, resulting in a dramatic depression in chemotactic efficiency, even though 3XALA cells are chemotactically responsive to cAMP. These results demonstrate that the phosphorylation of myosin II heavy chain plays a critical role in the maintenance of cell shape and in persistent translocation in a spatial gradient of chemoattractant.
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