Complex three-dimensional waves of excitation can explain the observed cell movement pattern in Dictyostelium slugs. Here we show that these three-dimensional waves can be produced by a realistic model for the cAMP relay system [Martiel, J. L. & Goldbeter, A. (1987) Biophys J. 52, 807-828]. The conversion of scroll waves in the prestalk zone of the slug into planar wave fronts in the prespore zone can result from a smaller fraction of relaying cells in the prespore zone. Further, we show that the cAMP concentrations to which cells in a slug are exposed over time display a simple pattern, despite the complex spatial geometry of the waves. This cAMP distribution agrees well with observed patterns of cAMP-regulated cell type-specific gene expression. The core of the spiral, which is a region of low cAMP concentration, might direct expression of stalk-specific genes during culmination.