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J Biol Chem. 2017 Dec 15;292(50):20354-20361. doi: 10.1074/jbc.AC117.000548. Epub 2017 Nov 9.

Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) dynamics determine cell fate in the yeast mating response.

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From the Section of Molecular Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093.
From the Section of Molecular Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093


In the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the exposure to mating pheromone activates a prototypic mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade and triggers a dose-dependent differentiation response. Whereas a high pheromone dose induces growth arrest and formation of a shmoo-like morphology in yeast cells, lower pheromone doses elicit elongated cell growth. Previous population-level analysis has revealed that the MAPK Fus3 plays an important role in mediating this differentiation switch. To further investigate how Fus3 controls the fate decision process at the single-cell level, we developed a specific translocation-based reporter for monitoring Fus3 activity in individual live cells. Using this reporter, we observed strikingly different dynamic patterns of Fus3 activation in single cells differentiated into distinct fates. Cells committed to growth arrest and shmoo formation exhibited sustained Fus3 activation. In contrast, most cells undergoing elongated growth showed either a delayed gradual increase or pulsatile dynamics of Fus3 activity. Furthermore, we found that chemically perturbing Fus3 dynamics with a specific inhibitor could effectively redirect the mating differentiation, confirming the causative role of Fus3 dynamics in driving cell fate decisions. MAPKs mediate proliferation and differentiation signals in mammals and are therapeutic targets in many cancers. Our results highlight the importance of MAPK dynamics in regulating single-cell responses and open up the possibility that MAPK signaling dynamics could be a pharmacological target in therapeutic interventions.


cell fate decision; cell signaling; differentiation; imaging; mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK); pheromone; single-cell analysis; yeast mating response

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