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Chemotropism and Cell Fusion in Neurospora crassa Relies on the Formation of Distinct Protein Complexes by HAM-5 and a Novel Protein HAM-14.

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In filamentous fungi, communication is essential for the formation of an interconnected, multinucleate, syncytial network, which is constructed via hyphal fusion or fusion of germinated asexual spores (germlings). Anastomosis in filamentous fungi is comparable to other somatic cell fusion events resulting in syncytia, including myoblast fusion during muscle differentiation, macrophage fusion, and fusion of trophoblasts during placental development. In Neurospora crassa, fusion of genetically identical germlings is a highly dynamic and regulated process that requires components of a MAP kinase signal transduction pathway. The kinase pathway components (NRC-1, MEK-2 and MAK-2) and the scaffold protein HAM-5 are recruited to hyphae and germling tips undergoing chemotropic interactions. The MAK-2/HAM-5 protein complex shows dynamic oscillation to hyphae/germling tips during chemotropic interactions, and which is out-of-phase to the dynamic localization of SOFT, which is a scaffold protein for components of the cell wall integrity MAP kinase pathway. In this study, we functionally characterize HAM-5 by generating ham-5 truncation constructs and show that the N-terminal half of HAM-5 was essential for function. This region is required for MAK-2 and MEK-2 interaction and for correct cellular localization of HAM-5 to "fusion puncta." The localization of HAM-5 to puncta was not perturbed in 21 different fusion mutants, nor did these puncta colocalize with components of the secretory pathway. We also identified HAM-14 as a novel member of the HAM-5/MAK-2 pathway by mining MAK-2 phosphoproteomics data. HAM-14 was essential for germling fusion, but not for hyphal fusion. Colocalization and coimmunoprecipitation data indicate that HAM-14 interacts with MAK-2 and MEK-2 and may be involved in recruiting MAK-2 (and MEK-2) to complexes containing HAM-5.

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