Terminal heterocyst differentiation in the Anabaena patA mutant as a result of post-transcriptional modifications and molecular leakage Articles uri icon

publication date

  • August 2022

start page

  • 1

end page

  • 26


  • 8


  • 18

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1553-734X

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1553-7358


  • The Anabaena genus is a model organism of filamentous cyanobacteria whose vegetative cells can differentiate under nitrogen-limited conditions into a type of cell called heterocyst. These heterocysts lose the possibility to divide and are necessary for the colony because they can fix and share environmental nitrogen. In order to distribute the nitrogen efficiently, heterocysts are arranged to form a quasi-regular pattern whose features are maintained as the filament grows. Recent efforts have allowed advances in the understanding of the interactions and genetic mechanisms underlying this dynamic pattern. However, the main role of the patA and hetF genes are yet to be clarified; in particular, the patA mutant forms heterocysts almost exclusively in the terminal cells of the filament. In this work, we investigate the function of these genes and provide a theoretical model that explains how they interact within the broader genetic network, reproducing their knock-out phenotypes in several genetic backgrounds, including a nearly uniform concentration of HetR along the filament for the patA mutant. Our results suggest a role of hetF and patA in a post-transcriptional modification of HetR which is essential for its regulatory function. In addition, the existence of molecular leakage out of the filament in its boundary cells is enough to explain the preferential appearance of terminal heterocysts, without any need for a distinct regulatory pathway.


  • Mathematics