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Diversification of a Protein Kinase Cascade: IME-2 Is Involved in Nonself Recognition and Programmed Cell Death in Neurospora crassa


Kinase cascades and the modification of proteins by phosphorylation are major mechanisms for cell signaling and communication, and evolution of these signaling pathways can contribute to new developmental or environmental response pathways. The Saccharomyces cerevisiae kinase Ime2 has been well characterized for its role in meiosis. However, recent studies have revealed alternative functions for Ime2 in both S. cerevisiae and other fungi. In the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa, the IME2 homolog (ime-2) is not required for meiosis. Here we determine that ime-2 interacts genetically with a transcription factor vib-1 during nonself recognition and programmed cell death (PCD). Mutations in vib-1 (Δvib-1) suppress PCD due to nonself recognition events; however, a Δvib-1 Δime-2 mutant restored wild-type levels of cell death. A role for ime-2 in the post-translational processing and localization of a mitochondrial matrix protein was identified, which may implicate mitochondria in N. crassa nonself recognition and PCD. Further, Δvib-1 strains do not produce extracellular proteases, but protease secretion reverted to near wild-type levels in a Δvib-1 Δime-2 strain. Mass spectrometry analysis revealed that the VIB-1 protein is phosphorylated at several sites, including a site that matches the IME-2 consensus. The genetic and biochemical data for ime-2 and vib-1 indicate that IME-2 is a negative regulator of VIB-1 and suggest parallel negative regulation by IME-2 of a cell death pathway in N. crassa that functions in concert with the VIB-1 cell death pathway. Thus, IME2 kinase function has evolved following the divergence of S. cerevisiae and N. crassa and provides insight into the evolution of kinases and their regulatory targets.

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