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mSphere. 2017 Jul 5;2(4). pii: e00182-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00182-17. eCollection 2017 Jul-Aug.

Behavioral Effects of a Chemorepellent Receptor Knockout Mutation in Tetrahymena thermophila.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, Amherst, New York, USA.


A conditioned supernatant from Tetrahymena thermophila contains a powerful chemorepellent for wild-type cells, and a gene called G37 is required for this response. This is the first genomic identification of a chemorepellent receptor in any eukaryotic unicellular organism. This conditioned supernatant factor (CSF) is small (<1 kDa), and its repellent effect is resistant to boiling, protease treatment, and nuclease digestion. External BAPTA eliminated the CSF response, suggesting that Ca2+ entry is required for the classical avoiding reactions (AR) used for chemorepulsion. A macronuclear G37 gene knockout (G37-KO) mutant is both nonresponsive to the CSF and overresponsive to other repellents such as quinine, lysozyme, GTP, and high potassium concentrations. All of these mutant phenotypes were reversed by overexpression of the wild-type G37 gene in a G37 overexpression mutant. Overexpression of G37 in the wild type caused increased responsiveness to the CSF and underresponsiveness to high K+ concentrations. Behavioral adaptation (by prolonged exposure to the CSF) caused decreases in responsiveness to all of the stimuli used in the wild type and the overexpression mutant but not in the G37-KO mutant. We propose that the constant presence of the CSF causes a decreased basal excitability of the wild type due to chemosensory adaptation through G37 and that all of the G37-KO phenotypes are due to an inability to detect the CSF. Therefore, the G37 protein may be the CSF receptor. The physiological role of these G37-mediated responses may be to both moderate basal excitability and detect the CSF as an indicator of high cell density growth. IMPORTANCE Although many single-cell eukaryotes have served as classical model systems for chemosensory studies for decades, the major emphasis has been on chemoattraction and no chemorepellent receptor gene has been identified in any unicellular eukaryote. This is the first description of a gene that codes for a chemorepellent receptor in any protozoan. Integration of both depolarizing chemorepellent pathways and hyperpolarizing chemoattractant pathways is as important to chemoresponses of motile unicells as excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter pathways are to neurons. Therefore, both chemoattractant and chemorepellent pathways should be represented in a useful unicellular model system. Tetrahymena cells provide such a model system because simple behavioral bioassays, gene knockouts, biochemical analysis, and other approaches can be used with these eukaryotic model cells. This work can contribute to the basic understanding of unicellular sensory responses and provide insights into the evolution of chemoreceptors and possible chemorepellent approaches for preventing infections by some pathogenic protozoa.


GPCR; Tetrahymena; behavioral bioassay; chemorepellent receptor; chemosensory transduction; excitability; knockout mutation

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