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Curr Biol. 2019 Jan 21;29(2):217-228.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.11.058. Epub 2019 Jan 3.

Bidirectional Propagation of Signals and Nutrients in Fungal Networks via Specialized Hyphae.

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Department of Biology, Institute of Microbiology, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Scientific Center for Optical and Electron Microscopy, ETH Zürich, Switzerland.
Department of Biotechnology, Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Department of Biology, Institute of Microbiology, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland. Electronic address:


Intercellular distribution of nutrients and coordination of responses to internal and external cues via endogenous signaling molecules are hallmarks of multicellular organisms. Vegetative mycelia of multicellular fungi are syncytial networks of interconnected hyphae resulting from hyphal tip growth, branching, and fusion. Such mycelia can reach considerable dimensions and, thus, different parts can be exposed to quite different environmental conditions. Our knowledge about the mechanisms by which fungal mycelia can adjust nutrient gradients or coordinate their defense response to fungivores is scarce, in part due to limitations in technologies currently available for examining different parts of a mycelium over longer time periods at the microscopic level. Here, we combined a tailor-made microfluidic platform with time-lapse fluorescence microscopy to visualize the dynamic response of the vegetative mycelium of a basidiomycete to two different stimuli. The microfluidic platform allows simultaneous monitoring at both the colony and single-hypha level. We followed the dynamics of the distribution of a locally administered nutrient analog and the defense response to spatially confined predation by a fungivorous nematode. Although both responses of the mycelium were constrained locally, we observed long-distance propagation for both the nutrient analog and defense response in a subset of hyphae. This propagation along hyphae occurred in both acropetal and basipetal directions and, intriguingly, the direction was found to alternate every 3 hr in an individual hypha. These results suggest that multicellular fungi have, as of yet, undescribed mechanisms to coordinate the distribution of nutrients and their behavioral response upon attack by fungivores.


Aphelenchus avenae; Coprinopsis cinerea; inducible defense response; microfluidic platform; mushroom; mycelial networks; nutrient distribution; signal propagation


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