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Microbiol Rev. 1992 Mar; 56(1): 180–194.
PMCID: PMC372860

Sexual agglutination in budding yeasts: structure, function, and regulation of adhesion glycoproteins.


The sexual agglutinins of the budding yeasts are cell adhesion proteins that promote aggregation of cells during mating. In each yeast species, complementary agglutinins are expressed by cells of opposite mating type that interact to mediate aggregation. Saccharomyces cerevisiae alpha-agglutinin and its analogs from other yeasts are single-subunit glycoproteins that contain N-linked and O-linked oligosaccharides. The N-glycosidase-sensitive carbohydrate is not necessary for activity. The proposed binding domain of alpha-agglutinin has features characteristic of the immunoglobulin fold structures of cell adhesion proteins of higher eukaryotes. The C-terminal region of alpha-agglutinin plays a role in anchoring the glycoprotein to the cell surface. The S. cerevisiae alpha-agglutinin and its analogs from other species contain multiple subunits; one or more binding subunits, which interact with the opposite agglutinin, are disulfide bonded to a core subunit, which mediates cell wall anchorage. The core subunits are composed of 80 to 95% O-linked carbohydrate. The binding subunits have less carbohydrate, and both carbohydrate and peptide play roles in binding. The alpha-agglutinin and alpha-agglutinin genes from S. cerevisiae have been cloned and shown to be regulated by the mating-type locus, MAT, and by pheromone induction. The agglutinins are necessary for mating under conditions that do not promote cell-cell contact. The role of the agglutinins therefore is to promote close interactions between cells of opposite mating type and possibly to facilitate the response to phermone, thus increasing the efficiency of mating. We speculate that they mediate enhanced response to sex pheromones by providing a synapse at the point of cell-cell contact, at which both pheromone secretion and cell fusion occur.

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