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In yeast cells, the activity of glycogen phosphorylase is regulated by cyclic AMP-mediated phosphorylation of the enzyme. We have previously cloned the gene for glycogen phosphorylase (GPH1) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. To assess the role of glycogen and phosphorylase-catalyzed glycogenolysis in the yeast life cycle, yeast strains lacking a functional GPH1 gene or containing multiple copies of the gene were constructed. GPH1 was found not to be an essential gene in yeast cells. Haploid cells disrupted in GPH1 lacked phosphorylase activity and attained higher levels of intracellular glycogen but otherwise were similar to wild-type cells. Diploid cells homozygous for the disruption were able to sporulate and give rise to viable ascospores. Absence of functional GPH1 did not impair cells from synthesizing and storing trehalose. Increases in phosphorylase activity of 10- to 40-fold were detected in cells carrying multiple copies of GPH1-containing 2 microns plasmid. Northern (RNA) analysis indicated that GPH1 transcription was induced at the late exponential growth phase, almost simultaneous with the onset of intracellular glycogen accumulation. Thus, the low level of glycogen in exponential cells was not primarily maintained through regulating the phosphorylation state of a constitutive amount of phosphorylase. GPH1 did not appear to be under formal glucose repression, since transcriptional induction occurred well in advance of glucose depletion from the medium.