Aspergillus SteA (Sterile12-like) is a homeodomain-C2/H2-Zn+2 finger transcription factor required for sexual reproduction



Saccharomyces cerevisiae Ste12p plays a key role in coupling signal transduction through MAP kinase modules to cell-specific or morphogenesis-specific gene expression required for mating and pseudohyphal (PH)/filamentous growth (FG). Ste12p homologues in the pathogenic yeasts Candida albicans and Filobasidiela neoformans apparently play similar roles during dimorphic transitions. Here we report the isolation and characterization of the first Ste12 protein from a true filamentous fungus. Aspergillus nidulans steA encodes a protein with a homeodomain 63–75% identical to those of other Ste12 proteins, with greatest similarity to FnSte12αp. SteAp and Ste12αp lack the pheromone induction domain found in budding yeast Ste12p, but have C-terminal C2/H2-Zn+2 finger domains not present in the other Ste12 proteins. A ΔsteA strain is sterile and differentiates neither ascogenous tissue nor fruiting bodies (cleistothecia). However, the development of sexual cycle-specific Hülle cells is unaffected. Filamentous growth, conidiation and the differentiation of PH-like asexual reproductive cells (metulae and phialides) are normal in the deletion strain. Northern analysis of key regulators of the asexual and sexual reproductive cycles support the observation that although SteAp function is restricted to the sexual cycle, cross regulation between the two developmental pathways exists. Our results further suggest that while several classes of related proteins control similar morphogenetic events in A. nidulans and the dimorphic yeasts, significant differences must exist in the regulatory circuitry.