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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 17;103(42):15517-22. Epub 2006 Oct 9.

Global roles of Ste11p, cell type, and pheromone in the control of gene expression during early sexual differentiation in fission yeast.

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  • 1Cancer Research UK Fission Yeast Functional Genomics Group, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge CB10 1HH, United Kingdom.


Fission yeast cells belong to one of two specialized cell types, M or P. Specific environmental conditions trigger sexual differentiation, which leads to an internal program starting with pheromone signaling between M and P cells, followed by mating, meiosis, and sporulation. The initial steps of this process are controlled by Ste11p, a master transcriptional regulator that activates the expression of cell type-specific genes (only expressed in either M or P cells) as well as genes expressed in both M and P cells. Pheromone signaling is activated by Ste11p-dependent transcription and, in turn, enhances some of this transcription in a positive feedback. To obtain a genomewide view of Ste11p target genes, their cell-type specificity, and their dependence on pheromone, we used DNA microarrays along with different genetic and environmental manipulations of fission yeast cells. We identified 78 Ste11p-dependent genes, 12 and 4 of which are only expressed in M and P cells, respectively. These genes show differing grades of pheromone dependencies for Ste11p-activated transcription, ranging from complete independence to complete dependence on pheromone. We systematically deleted all novel cell type-specific genes and characterized their phenotype during sexual differentiation. A comparison with a similar data set from the distantly related budding yeast reveals striking conservation in both number and types of the proteins that define cell types. Given the divergent mechanisms regulating cell type-specific gene expression, our results highlight the plasticity of regulatory circuits, which evolve to allow adaptation to changing environments and lifestyles.

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