The morphology of three Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains, all lacking chitin synthase 1 (Chs1) and two of them deficient in either Chs3 (calR1 mutation) or Chs2 was observed by light and electron microscopy. Cells deficient in Chs2 showed clumpy growth and aberrant shape and size. Their septa were very thick; the primary septum was absent. Staining with WGA-gold complexes revealed a diffuse distribution of chitin in the septum, whereas chitin was normally located at the neck between mother cell and bud and in the wall of mother cells. Strains deficient in Chs3 exhibited minor abnormalities in budding pattern and shape. Their septa were thin and trilaminar. Staining for chitin revealed a thin line of the polysaccharide along the primary septum; no chitin was present elsewhere in the wall. Therefore, Chs2 is specific for primary septum formation, whereas Chs3 is responsible for chitin in the ring at bud emergence and in the cell wall. Chs3 is also required for chitin synthesized in the presence of alpha-pheromone or deposited in the cell wall of cdc mutants at nonpermissive temperature, and for chitosan in spore walls. Genetic evidence indicated that a mutant lacking all three chitin synthases was inviable; this was confirmed by constructing a triple mutant rescued by a plasmid carrying a CHS2 gene under control of a GAL1 promoter. Transfer of the mutant from galactose to glucose resulted in cell division arrest followed by cell death. We conclude that some chitin synthesis is essential for viability of yeast cells.
Previously, we showed that chitin synthase 2 (Chs2) is required for septum formation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, whereas chitin synthase 1 (Chs1) does not appear to be an essential enzyme. However, in strains carrying a disrupted CHS1 gene, frequent lysis of buds is observed. Lysis occurs after nuclear separation and appears to result from damage to the cell wall, as indicated by osmotic stabilization and by a approximately 50-nm orifice at the center of the birth scar. Lysis occurs at a low pH and is prevented by buffering the medium above pH 5. A likely candidate for the lytic system is a previously described chitinase that is probably involved in cell separation. The chitinase has a very acidic pH optimum and a location in the periplasmic space that exposes it to external pH. Accordingly, allosamidin, a specific chitinase inhibitor, substantially reduced the number of lysed cells. Because the presence of Chs1 in the cell abolishes lysis, it is concluded that damage to the cell wall is caused by excessive chitinase activity at acidic pH, which can normally be repaired through chitin synthesis by Chs1. The latter emerges as an auxiliary or emergency enzyme. Other experiments suggest that both Chs1 and Chs2 collaborate in the repair synthesis of chitin, whereas Chs1 cannot substitute for Chs2 in septum formation.