Heterocyst-forming cyanobacteria are multicellular organisms that grow as chains of cells (filaments or trichomes) in which the cells exchange regulators and nutrients. In this article, we review the morphological, physiological and genetic data that have led to our current understanding of intercellular communication in these organisms. Intercellular molecular exchange appears to take place by simple diffusion through proteinaceous structures, known as septal junctions, which connect the adjacent cells in the filament and traverse the septal peptidoglycan through perforations known as nanopores. Proteins that are necessary to produce, and that may be components of, the septal junctions―SepJ, FraC and FraD―have been identified in the heterocyst-forming cyanobacterium Anabaena
sp. strain PCC 7120 model. Additionally, several proteins that are necessary to produce a normal number of nanopores and functional septal junctions have been identified, including AmiC-type amidases, peptidoglycan-binding proteins and some membrane transporters. Available reports and reevaluation of intercellular molecular transfer data for some mutants of Anabaena
suggest that the septal junctions can be regulated, likely by a mechanism of gating.
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