A key event in Dictyostelium development is the formation of the Mexican hat. This corresponds to a commitment step in morphogenesis that irreversibly signals progression from the slug stage to the fruiting body. We describe the characterization of the dhkK gene that controls this morphogenetic step. Null mutants of dhkK repeatedly attempt, and fail, to undergo morphogenesis from the slug to the Mexican hat, causing them to exhibit a "slugger" phenotype, which cannot be corrected by co-development with wild-type cells. The dhkK gene encodes a putative receptor histidine kinase whose expression is enriched in prestalk cells in the slug. Uniquely for a histidine kinase, DhkK is located in the nuclear envelope. Entry into culmination requires the DhkK response regulator domain, which appears to directly regulate cyclic AMP signaling.
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