The heterogeneity of cell populations and the influence of stochastic noise might be important issues for the molecular analysis of cellular reprogramming at the system level. Here, we show that in Physarum polycephalum, the expression patterns of marker genes correlate with the fate decision of individual multinucleate plasmodial cells that had been exposed to a differentiation-inducing photostimulus. For several hours after stimulation, the expression kinetics of PI-3-kinase, piwi, and pumilio orthologs and other marker genes were qualitatively similar in all stimulated cells but quantitatively different in those cells that subsequently maintained their proliferative potential and failed to differentiate accordingly. The results suggest that the population of nuclei in an individual plasmodium behaves synchronously in terms of gene regulation to an extent that the plasmodium provides a source for macroscopic amounts of homogeneous single-cell material for analysing the dynamic processes of cellular reprogramming. Based on the experimental findings, we predict that circuits with switch-like behaviour that control the cell fate decision of a multinucleate plasmodium operate through continuous changes in the concentration of cellular regulators because the nuclear population suspended in a large cytoplasmic volume damps stochastic noise.
© 2012 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.