In heterochronic mutants the relative timing of developmental events is altered compared with the wild type. This generally results in a disordered embryo, though heterochronic mutations may also be an important source of evolutionary variation. In the rapidly developing (rde) mutants of Dictyostelium, stalk and spore cells differentiate before morphogenesis is complete. We have traced the lesion in one class of these mutants to the regulatory subunit of cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (pk-A). Inactivation of this protein results in the unrestrained activity of the catalytic subunit, so prematurely triggering terminal cell differentiation.