Many filamentous cyanobacteria grow as multicellular organisms that show a developmental pattern of single nitrogen-fixing heterocysts separated by approximately 10 vegetative cells. Overexpression of a 54-base-pair gene, patS, blocked heterocyst differentiation in Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120. A patS null mutant showed an increased frequency of heterocysts and an abnormal pattern. Expression of a patS-gfp reporter was localized in developing proheterocysts. The addition of a synthetic peptide corresponding to the last five amino acids of PatS inhibited heterocyst development. PatS appears to control heterocyst pattern formation through intercellular signaling mechanisms.