Pheromone Guidance of Polarity Site Movement in Yeast.
Cells' ability to track chemical gradients is integral to many biological phenomena, including fertilization, development, accessing nutrients, and combating infection. Mating of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae provides a tractable model to understand how cells interpret the spatial information in chemical gradients. Mating yeast of the two different mating types secrete distinct peptide pheromones, called a-factor and α-factor, to communicate with potential partners. Spatial gradients of pheromones are decoded to guide mobile polarity sites so that polarity sites in mating partners align towards each other, as a prerequisite for cell-cell fusion and zygote formation. In ascomycetes including S. cerevisiae, one pheromone is prenylated (a-factor) while the other is not (α-factor). The difference in physical properties between the pheromones, combined with associated differences in mechanisms of secretion and extracellular pheromone metabolism, suggested that the pheromones might differ in the spatial information that they convey to potential mating partners. However, as mating appears to be isogamous in this species, it is not clear why any such signaling difference would be advantageous. Here we report assays that directly track movement of the polarity site in each partner as a way to understand the spatial information conveyed by each pheromone. Our findings suggest that both pheromones convey very similar information. We speculate that the different pheromones were advantageous in ancestral species with asymmetric mating systems and may represent an evolutionary vestige in yeasts that mate isogamously.
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