GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Peter M. Pryciak, Ph.D.


Cell Membrane, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, cdc42 GTP-Binding Protein, MAP Kinase Signaling System, Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins, Signal Transduction


In response to external stimuli, many intracellular signaling proteins undergo dynamic changes in localization to the plasma membrane. Using the Saccharomyces cerevisiaemating pathway as a model, I investigated the molecular interactions that govern plasma membrane localization of signaling proteins, and how the plasma membrane compartmentalization of a signaling complex influences the overall signaling behavior of the pathway.

Signaling proteins often consist of multiple interaction domains that collectively dictate their localization and function. Ste20 is a p21-activated kinase (PAK) that functions downstream of the Rho-type GTPase Cdc42 to activate several mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathways in budding yeast, including the mating pathway. I identified a short domain in Ste20 that directly binds to membrane lipids via electrostatic interaction. A mutation in this domain abolishes both the localization and function of Ste20. Thus, the previously known Cdc42 binding is necessary but not sufficient; instead, direct membrane binding by Ste20 is also critical. By replacing this domain with heterologous membranebinding domains, I demonstrated that phospholipid specificity is not essential in vivo. Functionally important short membrane-binding domains were also found in the Cdc42 effectors Gic1 and Gic2, indicating that generic membrane binding can work in concert with the CRIB domain to regulate activation of Cdc42 targets. These results underscore the importance of cooperation between protein-protein and protein-membrane interaction in achieving proper localization of signaling proteins at the cell cortex.

At the system level, MAP kinase cascades can be graded or switch-like. The budding yeast mating pathway exhibits a graded response to increasing levels of pheromone. Previously the scaffold protein Ste5 was hypothesized to contribute to this graded response. To test this idea, I activated the pathway in a variety of ways and measured the response at the single cell level. I found that the graded response is not perturbed by the deletion of negative regulators of the pathway whereas the response became switch-like when the pathway was activated by a crosstalk stimulus that bypasses the upstream components. Interestingly, activation of the pathway in the cytoplasm using the graded expression of MAPKKK resulted in an ultrasensitive response. In contrast, activation of the pathway at the plasma membrane using the graded expression of membranetargeted active pathway components remained graded. In these settings, the scaffold protein Ste5 increased ultrasensitivity when limited to the cytosol; however, if Ste5 was allowed to function at the plasma membrane, signaling was graded. The results suggest that, in the mating pathway, the inherently ultrasensitive MAPK cascade is converted to a graded system by the scaffoldmediated assembly of signaling complexes at the plasma membrane. Therefore, the plasma membrane localization of Ste5 helps shape the input-output properties of the mating MAPK pathway in a manner that is suitable for the biology of mating.

Taken together, this thesis underscores the importance of plasma membrane localization during mating pathway signaling in yeast. The examples described here provide further appreciation of how multiple interaction domains can function together to achieve specific targeting of the signaling proteins, as well as advances in understanding the role of scaffold proteins in modulating signaling behavior to promote graded signaling at the plasma membrane.



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