The effects of starvation on the cell morphology of Dictyostelium discoideum were studied with different cytochemical techniques, and with a morphometric method by which the surface areas of the cell membrane and of the digestive system can be determined.
During the first 2 h, the cell membrane becomes very wrinkled and many phagocytic cups and filopods are formed. These changes are in accord with the 40 percent increase in the cell surface area to cytoplasmic volume ratio observed, which is mainly due to a strong decrease in the cytoplasmic volume. At this time of starvation, cells are able to ingest twice as many yeast as during growth. Afterwards, while the phagocytic ability decreases, the phagocytic cups disappear, and all the cells become bristled with many thin filopods. In spite of these morphological changes, no quantitative or topological differences have been observed concerning the polysaccharide content of the plasma membrane, whether it was stained with phosphotungstic acid, silver proteinate, or ruthenium red.
During this time, the digestive vacuoles imbricate one into the other. Part of the vacuoles are degraded by this process, thus leading to an atrophy of the digestive apparatus. The digestive apparatus is progressively replaced by an autophagic system. Polysaccharide stainings and morphological observations show that the cytosegresomes seem to originate from the food vacuoles which flatten and sequester portions of cytoplasm. After 5 h of starvation, the digestive system is entirely transformed into an autophagic apparatus. The cell population appears to be homogeneous with respect to these changes. Therefore, potential precursors of prestalk and prespore cells were not observed.