A coenocyte (from Greek: κοινός (koinós) = "common" + κύτος (kýtos) = "box, i.e. cell") is a multinucleate cell which can result from multiple nuclear divisions without their accompanying cytokinesis, in contrast to a syncytium, which results from cellular aggregation followed by dissolution of the cell membranes inside the mass.[1] The word syncytium in animal embryology is used to refer to the coenocytic blastoderm of invertebrates.[2]


  • Physiological examples 1
    • Protists 1.1
      • Algae 1.1.1
      • Protozoa 1.1.2
      • Myxogastrids (slime molds) 1.1.3
      • Alveolates 1.1.4
    • Plants 1.2
    • Fungi 1.3
    • Metazoans: invertebrates 1.4
  • Pathological examples 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Physiological examples



Coenocytic cells are present in diverse and unrelated groups of algae, including


External links

  1. ^ Daubenmire, R. F. (1936). "The Use of the Terms Coenocyte and Syncytium in Biology". Science 84 (2189): 533–534.  
  2. ^ Willmer, P. G. (1990). Invertebrate Relationships : Patterns in Animal Evolution. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b Mine, I.; Menzel, D.; Okuda, K. (2008). "Morphogenesis in giant-celled algae". Int. Rev. Cell Mol. Biol. 266: 37–83.  


See also

Certain mutations and the activation of certain cell-cycle control genes can lead to bacteria forming "filament-like" cells with multiple chromosomes but without cellular division. These mechanisms or mistakes may lead to a similar structure to a coenocyte, though bacteria do not possess nuclei. This fact has been used in certain synthetic biology applications, for example to create cell-derived fibers for an organically grown concrete.

Pathological examples

The early embryo "syncytium" of invertebrates such as Drosophila is important for "syncytial" specification of cell differentiation. The egg cell cytoplasm contains localized mRNA molecules such as those that encode the transcription factors Bicoid and Nanos. Bicoid protein is expressed in a gradient that extends from the anterior end of the early embryo, whereas Nanos protein is concentrated at the posterior end. At first, the nuclei of the early embryo rapidly and synchronously divide in the "syncytial" blastoderm and then migrate through the cytoplasm and position themselves in a monolayer around the periphery, leaving only a small number of nuclei in the center of the egg, which will become yolk nuclei. The position of the nuclei along the embryonic axes determines the relative exposure of different amounts of Bicoid, Nanos, and other morphogens. Those nuclei with more Bicoid will activate genes that promote differentiation of cells into head and thorax structures. Nuclei exposed to more Nanos will activate genes responsible for differentiation of posterior regions, such as the abdomen and germ cells. The same principles hold true for the specification of the dorso-ventral axis – higher concentration of nuclear Dorsal protein on the ventral side of the egg specify the ventral fate, whereas absence thereof allows dorsal fates. After the nuclei are positioned in a monolayer underneath the egg membrane, the membrane begins to slowly invaginate, thus separating the nuclei into cellular compartments; during this period, the egg is called a cellular blastoderm. The pole cells – the germline anlage – are the first cells to separate fully.

Many insects, such as the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, lay eggs that initially develop as "syncytial" blastoderms, i.e. early on the embryos exhibit incomplete cell division. The nuclei undergo S-phase (DNA replication) and sister chromatids get pulled apart and re-assembled into nuclei containing full sets of homologous chromosomes, but cytokinesis does not occur. Thus, the nuclei multiply in a common cytoplasmic space.

Metazoans: invertebrates

Filamentous fungi may contain multiple nuclei in a coenocytic mycelium. A coenocyte functions as a single coordinated unit composed of multiple cells linked structurally and functionally, i.e. through gap junctions. Fungal mycelia in which hyphae lack septa are known as "aseptate" or "coenocytic".


Some structures of plants, such as endosperm, are coenocytic.


The trophont of syndinean (Dinoflagellata) parasites.

The schizont of apicomplexan parasites is a form of a coenocyte (i.e. a plasmodium in the general sense) as well as the plasmodia of microsporidian (Fungi) and myxosporidian (Metazoa) parasites.

Ciliates have cells that contain two nuclei: a macronucleus and a micronucleus.


See Plasmodium (life cycle).

Myxogastrids (slime molds)

Diplomonads, like Giardia, have two nuclei.