We have isolated and characterized Dictyostelium discoideum mutants with conditional defects in phagocytosis. Under suspension conditions, the mutants exhibited dramatic reductions in the uptake of bacteria and polystyrene latex beads. The initial binding of these ligands was unaffected, however, indicating that the defect was not in a plasma membrane receptor: Because of the phagocytosis defect, the mutants were unable to grow when cultured in suspensions of heat-killed bacteria. The mutants exhibited normal capacities for fluid phase endocytosis and grew as rapidly as parental (AX4) cells in axenic medium. Both the defects in phagocytosis and growth on bacteria were corrected when the mutant Dictyostelium cells were cultured on solid substrates. Reversion and genetic complementation analysis suggested that the mutant phenotypes were caused by single gene defects. While the precise site of action of the mutations was not established, the mutations are likely to affect an early signaling event because the binding of bacteria to mutant cells in suspension was unable to trigger the localized polymerization of actin filaments required for ingestion; other aspects of actin function appeared normal. This class of conditional phagocytosis mutant should prove to be useful for the expression cloning of the affected gene(s).

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