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Plant J. 2006 Jan;45(2):292-307.

The pherophorins: common, versatile building blocks in the evolution of extracellular matrix architecture in Volvocales.

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Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology of Plants, University of Bielefeld, Universitätsstr. 25, D-33615 Bielefeld, Germany.


Green algae of the order Volvocales provide an unrivalled opportunity for exploring the transition from unicellularity to multicellularity. They range from unicells, like Chlamydomonas, through homocytic colonial forms with increasing cooperation of individual cells, like Gonium or Pandorina, to heterocytic multicellular forms with different cell types and a complete division of labour, like Volvox. A fundamental requirement for the evolution of multicellularity is the development of a complex, multifunctional extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM has many functions, which can change under developmental control or as a result of environmental factors. Here molecular data from 15 novel proteins are presented. These proteins have been identified in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Gonium pectorale, Pandorina morum and Volvox carteri, and all belong to a single protein family, the pherophorins. Pherophorin-V1 is shown to be a glycoprotein localized to the 'cellular zone' of the V. carteri ECM. Pherophorin-V1 and -V2 mRNAs are strongly induced not only by the sex inducer, which triggers sexual development at extremely low concentrations, but also by mechanical wounding. Like the extensins of higher plants, which are also developmentally controlled or sometimes inducible by wounding, the pherophorins contain a (hydroxy-)proline-rich (HR) rod-like domain and are abundant within the extracellular compartment. In contrast to most extensins, pherophorins have additional globular A and B domains on both ends of the HR domains. Therefore pherophorins most closely resemble a particular class of higher plant extensin, the solanaceous lectins (e.g. potato lectin), suggesting multivalent carbohydrate-binding functions are present within the A and B domains and are responsible for cross-linking. Our results suggest that pherophorins are used as the building blocks for the extracellular scaffold throughout the Volvocales, with the characteristic mesh sizes in different ECM structures being a result of the highly diverse extensions of the HR domains. Pherophorins have therefore been a versatile element during the evolution of ECM architecture in these green algae.

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