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Whi2 signals low leucine availability to halt yeast growth and cell death

Teng, Xinchen, Yau, Eric, Sing, Cierra, Hardwick, J Marie
FEMS yeast research 2018 v.18 no.8
cell death, cell growth, genes, humans, leucine, potassium channels, yeasts
Cells are exquisitely tuned to environmental ques. Amino acid availability is rapidly sensed, allowing cells to adjust molecular processes and implement short or long-term metabolic shifts accordingly. How levels of most individual amino acids may be sensed and subsequently signaled to inform cells of their nutrient status is largely unknown. We made the unexpected observation that small changes in the levels of specific amino acids can have a profound effect on yeast cell growth, leading to the identification of yeast Whi2 as a negative regulator of cell growth in low amino acids. Although Whi2 was originally thought to be fungi-specific, Whi2 appears to share a conserved structural domain found in a family of 25 largely uncharacterized human genes encoding the KCTD (potassium channel tetramerization domain) protein family. Insights gained from yeast Whi2 are likely to be revealing about human KCTDs, many of which have been implicated or demonstrated to cause disease when mutated. Here we report new evidence that Whi2 responds to specific amino acids in the medium, particularly low leucine levels. We also discuss the known pathways of amino acid signaling and potential points of regulation by Whi2 in nutrient signaling in yeast and mammals.