An image processing system was programmed to automatically track and digitize the movement of amebae under phase-contrast microscopy. The amebae moved in a novel chemotaxis chamber designed to provide stable linear attractant gradients in a thin agarose gel. The gradients were established by pumping attractant and buffer solutions through semipermeable hollow fibers embedded in the agarose gel. Gradients were established within 30 min and shown to be stable for at least a further 90 min. By using this system it is possible to collect detailed data on the movement of large numbers of individual amebae in defined attractant gradients. We used the system to study motility and chemotaxis by a score of Dictyostelium discoideum wild-type and mutant strains, including "streamer" mutants which are generally regarded as being altered in chemotaxis. None of the mutants were altered in chemotaxis in the optimal cAMP gradient of 25 nM/mm, with a midpoint of 25 nM. The dependence of chemotaxis on cAMP concentration, gradient steepness, and temporal changes in the gradient were investigated. We also analyzed the relationship between turning behavior and the direction of travel during chemotaxis in stable gradients. The results suggest that during chemotaxis D. discoideum amebae spatially integrate information about local increases in cAMP concentration at various points on the cell surface.

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