The Saccharomyces cerevisiae BEM1 homologue in Neurospora crassa promotes co-ordinated cell behaviour resulting in cell fusion


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Directed growth or movement is a common feature of microbial development and propagation. In polar growing filamentous fungi, directed growth requires the interaction of signal sensing machineries with factors controlling polarity and cell tip extension. In Neurospora crassa an unusual mode of cell–cell signalling mediates mutual attraction of germinating spores, which subsequently fuse. During directed growth of the two fusion partners, the cells co-ordinately alternate between two physiological stages, probably associated with signal sending and receiving. Here, we show that the Saccharomyces cerevisiae BEM1 homologue in N. crassa is essential for the robust and efficient functioning of this MAP kinase-based signalling system. BEM1 localizes to growing hyphal tips suggesting a conserved function as a polarity component. In the absence of BEM1, activation of MAK-2, a MAP kinase essential for germling fusion, is strongly reduced and delayed. Germling interactions become highly instable and successful fusion is greatly reduced. In addition, BEM1 is actively recruited around the forming fusion pore, suggesting potential functions after cell–cell contact has been established. By genetically dissecting the contribution of BEM1 to additional various polarization events, we also obtained first hints that BEM1 might function in different protein complexes controlling polarity and growth direction.