Optogenetics reveals Cdc42 local activation by scaffold-mediated positive feedback and Ras GTPase

by Iker Lamas, Laura Merlini, Aleksandar Vještica, Vincent Vincenzetti, Sophie G. Martin

Local activity of the small GTPase Cdc42 is critical for cell polarization. Whereas scaffold-mediated positive feedback was proposed to break symmetry of budding yeast cells and produce a single zone of Cdc42 activity, the existence of similar regulation has not been probed in other organisms. Here, we address this problem using rod-shaped cells of fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, which exhibit zones of active Cdc42-GTP at both cell poles. We implemented the CRY2-CIB1 optogenetic system for acute light-dependent protein recruitment to the plasma membrane, which allowed to directly demonstrate positive feedback. Indeed, optogenetic recruitment of constitutively active Cdc42 leads to co-recruitment of the guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) Scd1 and endogenous Cdc42, in a manner dependent on the scaffold protein Scd2. We show that Scd2 function is dispensable when the positive feedback operates through an engineered interaction between the GEF and a Cdc42 effector, the p21-activated kinase 1 (Pak1). Remarkably, this rewired positive feedback confers viability and allows cells to form 2 zones of active Cdc42 even when otherwise essential Cdc42 activators are lacking. These cells further revealed that the small GTPase Ras1 plays a role in both localizing the GEF Scd1 and promoting its activity, which potentiates the positive feedback. We conclude that scaffold-mediated positive feedback, gated by Ras activity, confers robust polarization for rod-shape formation.

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