A seven-sex species recognizes self and non-self mating-type via a novel protein complex

Elife. 2024 Feb 28:13:RP93770. doi: 10.7554/eLife.93770.


Although most species have two sexes, multisexual (or multi-mating type) species are also widespread. However, it is unclear how mating-type recognition is achieved at the molecular level in multisexual species. The unicellular ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila has seven mating types, which are determined by the MTA and MTB proteins. In this study, we found that both proteins are essential for cells to send or receive complete mating-type information, and transmission of the mating-type signal requires both proteins to be expressed in the same cell. We found that MTA and MTB form a mating-type recognition complex that localizes to the plasma membrane, but not to the cilia. Stimulation experiments showed that the mating-type-specific regions of MTA and MTB mediate both self- and non-self-recognition, indicating that T. thermophila uses a dual approach to achieve mating-type recognition. Our results suggest that MTA and MTB form an elaborate multifunctional protein complex that can identify cells of both self and non-self mating types in order to inhibit or activate mating, respectively.

Keywords: Tetrahymena thermophila; cell biology; genetics; genomics; mating-type recognition; multisexual species; self-incompatibility; sexual reproduction.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Membrane
  • Cilia
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Reproduction*