Heterocyst patterns without patterning proteins in cyanobacterial filaments

Jun F. Allard, Alison L. Hill, Andrew D. Rutenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We have quantitatively modeled heterocyst differentiation after fixed nitrogen step-down in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 without lateral inhibition due to the patterning proteins PatS or HetN. We use cell growth and division together with fixed-nitrogen dynamics and allow heterocysts to differentiate upon the local exhaustion of available fixed nitrogen. Slow transport of fixed nitrogen along a shared periplasmic space allows for fast growing cells to differentiate ahead of their neighbors. Cell-to-cell variability in growth rate determines the initial heterocyst pattern. Early release of fixed nitrogen from committed heterocysts allows a significant fraction of vegetative cells to be retained at later times. We recover the experimental heterocyst spacing distributions and cluster size distributions of Khudyakov and Golden [Khudyakov, I.Y., Golden, J.W., 2004. Different functions of HetR, a master regulator of heterocyst differentiation in Anabaena sp PCC 7120, can be separated by mutation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 101, 16040-16045].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-434
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Anabaena
  • Computational modeling
  • Diazotrophic
  • Differentiation
  • Filamentous cyanobacteria
  • Fixed nitrogen
  • Growth and division
  • Heterocyst commitment
  • Lateral inhibition
  • Pattern formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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