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PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(10):e1003696. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003696. Epub 2013 Oct 10.

Activation of the Cph1-dependent MAP kinase signaling pathway induces white-opaque switching in Candida albicans.

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Institut für Molekulare Infektionsbiologie, Universität Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.


Depending on the environmental conditions, the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans can undergo different developmental programs, which are controlled by dedicated transcription factors and upstream signaling pathways. C. albicans strains that are homozygous at the mating type locus can switch from the normal yeast form (white) to an elongated cell type (opaque), which is the mating-competent form of this fungus. Both white and opaque cells use the Ste11-Hst7-Cek1/Cek2 MAP kinase signaling pathway to react to the presence of mating pheromone. However, while opaque cells employ the transcription factor Cph1 to induce the mating response, white cells recruit a different downstream transcription factor, Tec1, to promote the formation of a biofilm that facilitates mating of opaque cells in the population. The switch from the white to the opaque cell form is itself induced by environmental signals that result in the upregulation of the transcription factor Wor1, the master regulator of white-opaque switching. To get insight into the upstream signaling pathways controlling the switch, we expressed all C. albicans protein kinases from a tetracycline-inducible promoter in a switching-competent strain. Screening of this library of strains showed that a hyperactive form of Ste11 lacking its N-terminal domain (Ste11(ΔN467)) efficiently stimulated white cells to switch to the opaque phase, a behavior that did not occur in response to pheromone. Ste11(ΔN467)-induced switching specifically required the downstream MAP kinase Cek1 and its target transcription factor Cph1, but not Cek2 and Tec1, and forced expression of Cph1 also promoted white-opaque switching in a Wor1-dependent manner. Therefore, depending on the activation mechanism, components of the pheromone-responsive MAP kinase pathway can be reconnected to stimulate an alternative developmental program, switching of white cells to the mating-competent opaque phase.

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