Interactions between adhesion molecules, agglutinins, on the surfaces of the flagella of mt+ and mt- gametes in Chlamydomonas rapidly generate a sexual signal, mediated by cAMP, that prepares the cells for fusion to form a zygote. The mechanism that couples agglutinin interactions to increased cellular levels of cAMP is unknown. In previous studies on the adenylyl cyclase in flagella of a single mating type (i.e., non-adhering flagella) we presented evidence that the gametic form of the enzyme, but not the vegetative form, was regulated by phosphorylation and dephosphorylation (Zhang, Y., E. M. Ross, and W. J. Snell. 1991. J. Biol. Chem. 266:22954-22959; Zhang, Y., and W. J. Snell. 1993. J. Biol. Chem. 268:1786-1791). In the present report we describe studies on regulation of flagellar adenylyl cyclase during adhesion in a cell-free system. The results show that the activity of gametic flagellar adenylyl cyclase is regulated by adhesion in vitro between flagella isolated from mt+ and mt- gametes. After mixing mt+ and mt- flagella together for 15 s in vitro, adenylyl cyclase activity was increased two- to threefold compared to that of the non-mixed (non-adhering), control flagella. This indicates that the regulation of gametic flagellar adenylyl cyclase during the early steps of fertilization is not mediated by signals from the cell body, but is a direct and primary response to interactions between mt+ and mt- agglutinins. By use of this in vitro assay, we discovered that 50 nM staurosporine (a protein kinase inhibitor) blocked adhesion-induced activation of adenylyl cyclase in vitro, while it had no effect on adenylyl cyclase activity of non-adhering gametic flagella. This same low concentration of staurosporine also inhibited adhesion-induced increases in vivo in cellular cAMP and blocked subsequent cellular responses to adhesion. Taken together, our results indicate that flagellar adenylyl cyclase in Chlamydomonas gametes is coupled to interactions between mt+ and mt- agglutinins by a staurosporine-sensitive activity, probably a protein kinase.

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