A conserved RWP-RK transcription factor VSR1 controls gametic differentiation in volvocine algae

Sa Geng, Takashi Hamaji, Patrick J. Ferris, Minglu Gao, Yoshiki Nishimura, James Umen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Volvocine green algae are a model for understanding the evolution of mating types and sexes. They are facultatively sexual, with gametic differentiation occurring in response to nitrogen starvation (-N) in most genera and to sex inducer hormone in Volvox. The conserved RWP-RK family transcription factor (TF) MID is encoded by the minus mating-type locus or male sex-determining region of heterothallic volvocine species and dominantly determines minus or male gametic differentiation. However, the factor(s) responsible for establishing the default plus or female differentiation programs have remained elusive. We performed a phylo-transcriptomic screen for autosomal RWP-RK TFs induced during gametogenesis in unicellular isogamous Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Chlamydomonas) and in multicellular oogamous Volvox carteri (Volvox) and identified a single conserved ortho-group we named Volvocine Sex Regulator 1 (VSR1). Chlamydomonas vsr1 mutants of either mating type failed to mate and could not induce expression of key mating-type-specific genes. Similarly, Volvox vsr1 mutants in either sex could initiate sexual embryogenesis, but the presumptive eggs or androgonidia (sperm packet precursors) were infertile and unable to express key sex-specific genes. Yeast two-hybrid assays identified a conserved domain in VSR1 capable of self-interaction or interaction with the conserved N terminal domain of MID. In vivo coimmunoprecipitation experiments demonstrated association of VSR1 and MID in both Chlamydomonas and Volvox. These data support a new model for volvocine sexual differentiation where VSR1 homodimers activate expression of plus/female gamete-specific-genes, but when MID is present, MID-VSR1 heterodimers are preferentially formed and activate minus/male gamete-specific-genes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2305099120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - 2023


  • chlamydomonas
  • mating type
  • sex differentiation
  • volvox


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