Spatial transcriptomic and single-nucleus analysis reveals heterogeneity in a gigantic single-celled syncytium

Tobias Gerber, Cristina Loureiro, Nico Schramma, Siyu Chen, Akanksha Jain, Anne Weber, Anne Weigert, Malgorzata Santel, Karen Alim, Barbara Treutlein, J. Gray Camp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In multicellular organisms, the specification, coordination, and compartmentalization of cell types enable the formation of complex body plans. However, some eukaryotic protists such as slime molds generate diverse and complex structures while remaining in a multinucleate syncy-tial state. It is unknown if different regions of these giant syncytial cells have distinct transcriptional responses to environmental encounters and if nuclei within the cell diversify into heterogeneous states. Here, we performed spatial transcriptome analysis of the slime mold Physarum polyceph-alum in the plasmodium state under different environmental conditions and used single-nucleus RNA-sequencing to dissect gene expression heterogeneity among nuclei. Our data identifies tran-scriptome regionality in the organism that associates with proliferation, syncytial substructures, and localized environmental conditions. Further, we find that nuclei are heterogenous in their transcriptional profile and may process local signals within the plasmodium to coordinate cell growth, metabolism, and reproduction. To understand how nuclei variation within the syncytium compares to heterogeneity in single-nucleus cells, we analyzed states in single Physarum amoebal cells. We observed amoebal cell states at different stages of mitosis and meiosis, and identified cytokinetic features that are specific to nuclei divisions within the syncytium. Notably, we do not find evidence for predefined transcriptomic states in the amoebae that are observed in the syncytium. Our data shows that a single-celled slime mold can control its gene expression in a region-specific manner while lacking cellular compartmentalization and suggests that nuclei are mobile processors facil-itating local specialized functions. More broadly, slime molds offer the extraordinary opportunity to explore how organisms can evolve regulatory mechanisms to divide labor, specialize, balance competition with cooperation, and perform other foundational principles that govern the logic of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere69745
StatePublished - Feb 2022


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