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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 Oct;16(10):5427-32.

Transcriptional regulation by ergosterol in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-7615, USA.


Sterol biosynthesis in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is an energy-expensive, aerobic process, requiring heme and molecular oxygen. Heme, also synthesized exclusively during aerobic growth, not only acts as an enzymatic cofactor but also is directly and indirectly responsible for the transcriptional control of several yeast genes. Because of their biosynthetic similarities, we hypothesized that ergosterol, like heme, may have a regulatory function. Sterols are known to play a structural role in membrane integrity, but regulatory roles have not been characterized. To test possible regulatory roles of sterol, the promoter for the ERG3 gene, encoding the sterol C-5 desaturase, was fused to the bacterial lacZ reporter gene. This construct was placed in strains making aberrant sterols, and the effect of altered sterol composition on gene expression was monitored by beta-galactosidase activity. The absence of ergosterol resulted in a 35-fold increase in the expression of ERG3 as measured by beta-galactosidase activity. The level of ERG3 mRNA was increased as much as ninefold in erg mutant strains or wild-type strains inhibited in ergosterol biosynthesis by antifungal agents. The observed regulatory effects of ergosterol on ERG3 are specific for ergosterol, as several ergosterol derivatives failed to elicit the same controlling effect. These results demonstrate for the first time that ergosterol exerts a regulatory effect on gene transcription in S. cerevisiae.

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