Cell-cell fusion between gametes is a defining step during development of eukaryotes, yet we know little about the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the gamete membrane fusion reaction. HAP2 is the sole gamete-specific protein in any system that is broadly conserved and shown by gene disruption to be essential for gamete fusion. The wide evolutionary distribution of HAP2 (also known as GCS1) indicates it was present in the last eukaryotic common ancestor and, therefore, dissecting its molecular properties should provide new insights into fundamental features of fertilization. HAP2 acts at a step after membrane adhesion, presumably directly in the merger of the lipid bilayers. Here, we use the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas to characterize contributions of key regions of HAP2 to protein location and function. We report that mutation of three strongly conserved residues in the ectodomain has no effect on targeting or fusion, although short deletions that include those residues block surface expression and fusion. Furthermore, HAP2 lacking a 237-residue segment of the cytoplasmic region is expressed at the cell surface, but fails to localize at the apical membrane patch specialized for fusion and fails to rescue fusion. Finally, we provide evidence that the ancient HAP2 contained a juxta-membrane, multi-cysteine motif in its cytoplasmic region, and that mutation of a cysteine dyad in this motif preserves protein localization, but substantially impairs HAP2 fusion activity. Thus, the ectodomain of HAP2 is essential for its surface expression, and the cytoplasmic region targets HAP2 to the site of fusion and regulates the fusion reaction.
Keywords: Cell-cell fusion; Chlamydomonas; GCS1; Gamete membrane fusion reaction; HAP2.
© 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.