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Genes Dev. 2001 Oct 15;15(20):2767-77.

Ectopic expression of a Chlamydomonas mt+-specific homeodomain protein in mt- gametes initiates zygote development without gamete fusion.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas 75390-9039, USA.


The molecular mechanisms that activate expression of zygote genes after fertilization are obscure. In animals, receptor-ligand interactions during sperm-egg membrane fusion as well as delivery of putative regulatory molecules by the sperm into the egg cytoplasm are proposed to activate zygote development and subsequent transcription of zygote genes. The mechanisms of activation of zygote development in higher plants also are mysterious, in part because of the difficulty of isolating female gametes of higher plants. In the unicellular, biflagellated green alga Chlamydomonas, the early steps in zygote development are much more accessible to investigation. Within minutes after mating type plus (mt+) and mating type minus (mt-) gametes fuse, expression of several zygote-specific transcripts is induced independently of protein synthesis. Here, we show that ectopic expression in mt- gametes of an mt+ gamete-specific, homeodomain protein, GSP1, induces a zygote-like phenotype and activates expression of zygote genes. One of the genes, zsp2, expressed in these "haploid zygotes" encodes a zygote cell surface adhesion molecule that promotes formation of multicellular aggregates. In total, expression of six out of seven zygote genes examined was induced by ectopic expression of GSP1. Our experiments show that in addition to contributing their genomes to the zygote cytoplasm, gametes also deliver proteins that can activate gene transcription.

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