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The impact of calcium signals in virtually all cells has led to the study of their role in prokaryotic organisms as stress response modulators. Cell differentiation in adverse conditions is a common Ca(2+)-requiring response. Nitrogen starvation induces the differentiation of N(2)-fixing heterocysts in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC7120. This paper reports the use of a recombinant strain of this organism expressing the photoprotein aequorin to monitor the intracellular free-calcium concentration during the course of heterocyst differentiation. A specific calcium signature that is triggered exclusively when cells are deprived of combined nitrogen and generated by intracellular calcium stores was identified. The intracellular calcium signal was manipulated by treatment with specific calcium drugs, and the effect of such manipulation on the process of heterocyst differentiation was subsequently assessed. Suppression, magnification or poor regulation of this signal prevented the process of heterocyst differentiation, thereby suggesting that a calcium signal with a defined set of kinetic parameters may be required for differentiation. A hetR mutant of Anabaena sp. PCC7120 that cannot differentiate into heterocysts retains, however, the capacity to generate the calcium transient in response to nitrogen deprivation, strongly suggesting that Ca(2+) may be involved in a very early step of the differentiation process.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





3731 - 3739


Adaptation, Physiological, Aequorin, Anabaena, Bacterial Proteins, Calcium, Calcium Signaling, Cytoplasm, Gene Deletion, Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial, Genes, Reporter, Nitrogen, Recombinant Proteins