The secretion of 3H-cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cAMP) by prelabeled and suitably differentiated Dictyostelium discoideum amoebae was elicited in a perfusion apparatus by 10(-10) to 10(-5) M [14C]cAMP stimuli of defined magnitude and duration. Exogenous stimuli evoked an immediate increase in the rate of [3H]cAMP secretion which accelerated continuously to reach a peak of up to 100 times the unstimulated rate after 2--3 min of stimulation. Withdrawal of the stimulus at any time during the response led to a rapid decline to basal levels. Furthermore, a spontaneous decline in secretion rate was observed during prolonged cAMP stimulation, with a return to basal levels after 3--8 min of stimulation. After the initial secretory event, cells did not respond further to the continued presence of external [14C]cAMP unless (a) it was interrupted by a brief recovery period or (b) the level of the stimulus was increased sufficiently. Since the second increment could follow the first at any time, continuous secretion of [3H]cAMP could be sustained for up to 30 min by progressively increasing the stimulus between 10(-10) and 10(-5) M cAMP. The total magnitude of spontaneously terminated responses depended on the size of the increment in applied cAMP, larger stimuli evoking both a more rapid acceleration and a slower deceleration in [3H]cAMP secretion rate. The integrated response to a given increment in stimulus level was apparently independent of its "shape" - i.e., the duration, magnitude, and number of sub-steps in the increment. These data support two mechanistic inferences: that amoebae respond in proportion to relative increases in extracellular cAMP concentration, but adapt to the concentration of cAMP itself. The data further suggest that the initiation and termination of the response are mediated by cellular component(s) beyond cAMP-occupied receptors.

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