Pyranine was employed as a sensitive pH indicator in a low light level microspectrofluorometer. The in vivo and in vitro standard curves of the 460/410-nm fluorescence excitation ratio of pyranine as a function of pH are identical. Therefore, pyranine is specifically sensitive to cytoplasmic pH in Dictyostelium. The cytoplasmic pH of single cells in a population of Dictyostelium discoideum amoebae was obtained for the first time. The median cytoplasmic pH of vegetative amoebae was 7.19. Carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone, a mitochondrial uncoupler and a protonophore, lowered the median cytoplasmic pH to 6.12 when the extracellular pH was 6.1. This result is in accord with the protonophore activity of carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone. Interest in the cytoplasmic pH of Dictyostelium has been greatly stimulated by the theory that cytoplasmic acidification promotes development of pre-stalk cells, while cytoplasmic alkalinization favors the pre-spore pathway (Gross, J. D., J. Bradbury, R. R. Kay, M. J. Peacey. 1983. Nature (Lond.). 303:244-245). The theory postulates that diethylstilbestrol (DES), an inducer of stalk cell differentiation and a plasma membrane proton translocating ATPase inhibitor, should cause acidification of the cytosol. Previous measurements of the effects of stalk cell inducers including DES on intracellular pH using 31P nuclear magnetic resonance measurements have failed to confirm the predictions of the theory, and have suggested that significant modification of the model may be required. Using pyranine as the pH indicator, we find that the median cytoplasmic pH in cells treated with 10 microM DES dropped from 7.19 to pH 6.02. This effect is consistent with the pharmacological action of DES and with the proposal that DES, a stalk cell inducer, should acidify the cytosol. These results provide direct support for the theory that cytoplasmic pH is an essential regulator of the developmental pathway in Dictyostelium.

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