Yeast flocculation and invasive growth are processes of great interest in fundamental biology and also relevant in biotechnology and medicine. Hal3 and Vhs3 are moonlighting proteins acting in Saccharomyces cerevisiae both as inhibitors of the Ppz protein phosphatases and as components of a catalytic step in CoA biosynthesis. The double hal3 vhs3 mutant is not viable but, under semi-permissive conditions, the tetO:HAL3 vhs3 strain shows a flocculent phenotype, invasive growth and increased expression of the flocculin-encoding FLO11 gene. We show here that all these effects are caused by hyperactivation of Ppz1 as a result of depletion of its natural inhibitors. The evidence indicates that hyperactivation of Ppz1 would impair potassium transport through the Trk1/Trk2 transporters, thus resulting in a decrease in the intracellular pH and a subsequent increase in the levels of cAMP. Mutation of the TPK2 isoform of protein kinase A blocks the increase in FLO11 expression, and eliminates the flocculent and invasive phenotypes produced by depletion of Hal3 and Vhs3. Interestingly, mutation of RIM101 also significantly decreases FLO11 expression under these conditions. Cells lacking Trk1,2 display an invasive phenotype that is abolished by deletion of FLO8 or by increasing the potassium concentration in the medium. Therefore, our results support a model in which hyperactivation of Ppz phosphatases would result in alteration of potassium transport, activation of Tpk2 and signaling to the FLO11 promoter by means of the Flo8 transcription factor, thus modulating flocculation and invasive growth. This model highlights an unsuspected link between potassium homeostasis and these important morphogenetic events.
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