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Cell. 2013 Dec 5;155(6):1244-57. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.10.046.

A super-assembly of Whi3 encodes memory of deceptive encounters by single cells during yeast courtship.

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Institute of Biochemistry, Department of Biology, ETH Zurich, Schafmattstrasse 18, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland.


Cellular behavior is frequently influenced by the cell's history, indicating that single cells may memorize past events. We report that budding yeast permanently escape pheromone-induced cell-cycle arrest when experiencing a deceptive mating attempt, i.e., not reaching their putative partner within reasonable time. This acquired behavior depends on super-assembly and inactivation of the G1/S inhibitor Whi3, which liberates the G1 cyclin Cln3 from translational inhibition. Super-assembly of Whi3 is a slow response to pheromone, driven by polyQ and polyN domains, counteracted by Hsp70, and stable over generations. Unlike prion aggregates, Whi3 super-assemblies are not inherited mitotically but segregate to the mother cell. We propose that such polyQ- and polyN-based elements, termed here mnemons, act as cellular memory devices to encode previous environmental conditions.

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