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Genes Dev. 2003 Sep 15;17(18):2259-70. Epub 2003 Sep 2.

Ubiquitin-dependent degradation of the yeast Mat(alpha)2 repressor enables a switch in developmental state.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8114, USA.


Developmental transitions in eukaryotic cell lineages revolve around two general processes: the dismantling of the regulatory program specifying an initial differentiated state and its replacement by a new system of regulators. However, relatively little is known about the mechanisms by which a previous regulatory state is inactivated. Protein degradation is implicated in a few examples, but the molecular reasons that a formerly used regulator must be removed are not understood. Many yeast strains undergo a developmental transition in which cells of one mating type differentiate into a distinct cell type by a programmed genetic rearrangement at the MAT locus. We find that Mat(alpha)2, a MAT-encoded transcriptional repressor that is key to creating several cell types, must be rapidly degraded for cells to switch their mating phenotype properly. Strikingly, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis of alpha2 is required for two mechanistically distinct purposes: It allows the timely inactivation of one transcriptional repressor complex, and it prevents the de novo assembly of a different, inappropriate regulatory complex. Analogous epigenetic mechanisms for reprogramming transcription are likely to operate in many developmental pathways.

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