Summary: The ability to degrade the amino acid histidine to ammonia, glutamate, and a one-carbon compound (formate or formamide) is a property that is widely distributed among bacteria. The four or five enzymatic steps of the pathway are highly conserved, and the chemistry of the reactions displays several unusual features, including the rearrangement of a portion of the histidase polypeptide chain to yield an unusual imidazole structure at the active site and the use of a tightly bound NAD molecule as an electrophile rather than a redox-active element in urocanase. Given the importance of this amino acid, it is not surprising that the degradation of histidine is tightly regulated. The study of that regulation led to three central paradigms in bacterial regulation: catabolite repression by glucose and other carbon sources, nitrogen regulation and two-component regulators in general, and autoregulation of bacterial regulators. This review focuses on three groups of organisms for which studies are most complete: the enteric bacteria, for which the regulation is best understood; the pseudomonads, for which the chemistry is best characterized; and Bacillus subtilis, for which the regulatory mechanisms are very different from those of the Gram-negative bacteria. The Hut pathway is fundamentally a catabolic pathway that allows cells to use histidine as a source of carbon, energy, and nitrogen, but other roles for the pathway are also considered briefly here.
Summary: From microbes to multicellular eukaryotic organisms, all cells contain pathways responsible for genome maintenance. DNA replication allows for the faithful duplication of the genome, whereas DNA repair pathways preserve DNA integrity in response to damage originating from endogenous and exogenous sources. The basic pathways important for DNA replication and repair are often conserved throughout biology. In bacteria, high-fidelity repair is balanced with low-fidelity repair and mutagenesis. Such a balance is important for maintaining viability while providing an opportunity for the advantageous selection of mutations when faced with a changing environment. Over the last decade, studies of DNA repair pathways in bacteria have demonstrated considerable differences between Gram-positive and Gram-negative organisms. Here we review and discuss the DNA repair, genome maintenance, and DNA damage checkpoint pathways of the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis. We present their molecular mechanisms and compare the functions and regulation of several pathways with known information on other organisms. We also discuss DNA repair during different growth phases and the developmental program of sporulation. In summary, we present a review of the function, regulation, and molecular mechanisms of DNA repair and mutagenesis in Gram-positive bacteria, with a strong emphasis on B. subtilis.
Summary: Diatoms and bacteria have cooccurred in common habitats for hundreds of millions of years, thus fostering specific associations and interactions with global biogeochemical consequences. Diatoms are responsible for one-fifth of the photosynthesis on Earth, while bacteria remineralize a large portion of this fixed carbon in the oceans. Through their coexistence, diatoms and bacteria cycle nutrients between oxidized and reduced states, impacting bioavailability and ultimately feeding higher trophic levels. Here we present an overview of how diatoms and bacteria interact and the implications of these interactions. We emphasize that heterotrophic bacteria in the oceans that are consistently associated with diatoms are confined to two phyla. These consistent bacterial associations result from encounter mechanisms that occur within a microscale environment surrounding a diatom cell. We review signaling mechanisms that occur in this microenvironment to pave the way for specific interactions. Finally, we discuss known interactions between diatoms and bacteria and exciting new directions and research opportunities in this field. Throughout the review, we emphasize new technological advances that will help in the discovery of new interactions. Deciphering the languages of diatoms and bacteria and how they interact will inform our understanding of the role these organisms have in shaping the ocean and how these interactions may change in future oceans.
Summary: Bacterial enhancer binding proteins (bEBPs) are transcriptional activators that assemble as hexameric rings in their active forms and utilize ATP hydrolysis to remodel the conformation of RNA polymerase containing the alternative sigma factor σ54. We present a comprehensive and detailed summary of recent advances in our understanding of how these specialized molecular machines function. The review is structured by introducing each of the three domains in turn: the central catalytic domain, the N-terminal regulatory domain, and the C-terminal DNA binding domain. The role of the central catalytic domain is presented with particular reference to (i) oligomerization, (ii) ATP hydrolysis, and (iii) the key GAFTGA motif that contacts σ54 for remodeling. Each of these functions forms a potential target of the signal-sensing N-terminal regulatory domain, which can act either positively or negatively to control the activation of σ54-dependent transcription. Finally, we focus on the DNA binding function of the C-terminal domain and the enhancer sites to which it binds. Particular attention is paid to the importance of σ54 to the bacterial cell and its unique role in regulating transcription.
Summary: The TAR RNA binding protein (TRBP) has emerged as a key player in many cellular processes. First identified as a cellular protein that facilitates the replication of human immunodeficiency virus, TRBP has since been shown to inhibit the activation of protein kinase R (PKR), a protein involved in innate immune responses and the cellular response to stress. It also binds to the PKR activator PACT and regulates its function. TRBP also contributes to RNA interference as an integral part of the minimal RNA-induced silencing complex with Dicer and Argonaute proteins. Due to its multiple functions in the cell, TRBP is involved in oncogenesis when its sequence is mutated or its expression is deregulated. The depletion or overexpression of TRBP results in malignancy, suggesting that the balance of TRBP expression is key to normal cellular function. These studies show that TRBP is multifunctional and mediates cross talk between different pathways. Its activities at the molecular level impact the cellular function from normal development to cancer and the response to infections.
Summary: Anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing (anammox) bacteria defy many microbiological concepts and share numerous properties with both eukaryotes and archaea. Among their most intriguing characteristics are their compartmentalized cell plan and archaeon-like cell wall. Here we review our current knowledge about anammox cell biology. The anammox cell is divided into three separate compartments by bilayer membranes. The anammox cell consists of (from outside to inside) the cell wall, paryphoplasm, riboplasm, and anammoxosome. Not much is known about the composition or function of both the anammox cell wall and the paryphoplasm compartment. The cell wall is proposed to be proteinaceous and to lack both peptidoglycan and an outer membrane typical of Gram-negative bacteria. The function of the paryphoplasm is unknown, but it contains the cell division ring. The riboplasm resembles the standard cytoplasmic compartment of other bacteria; it contains ribosomes and the nucleoid. The anammoxosome occupies most of the cell volume and is a so-called “prokaryotic organelle” analogous to the eukaryotic mitochondrion. This is the site where the anammox reaction takes place, coupled over the curved anammoxosome membrane, possibly giving rise to a proton motive force and subsequent ATP synthesis. With these unique properties, anammox bacteria are food for thought concerning the early evolution of the domains Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya.
Summary: Diversity in adaptive responses is common within species and populations, especially when the heterogeneity of the frequently large populations found in environments is considered. By focusing on events in a single clonal population undergoing a single transition, we discuss how environmental cues and changes in growth rate initiate a multiplicity of adaptive pathways. Adaptation is a comprehensive process, and stochastic, regulatory, epigenetic, and mutational changes can contribute to fitness and overlap in timing and frequency. We identify culture history as a major determinant of both regulatory adaptations and microevolutionary change. Population history before a transition determines heterogeneities due to errors in translation, stochastic differences in regulation, the presence of aged, damaged, cheating, or dormant cells, and variations in intracellular metabolite or regulator concentrations. It matters whether bacteria come from dense, slow-growing, stressed, or structured states. Genotypic adaptations are history dependent due to variations in mutation supply, contingency gene changes, phase variation, lateral gene transfer, and genome amplifications. Phenotypic adaptations underpin genotypic changes in situations such as stress-induced mutagenesis or prophage induction or in biofilms to give a continuum of adaptive possibilities. Evolutionary selection additionally provides diverse adaptive outcomes in a single transition and generally does not result in single fitter types. The totality of heterogeneities in an adapting population increases the chance that at least some individuals meet immediate or future challenges. However, heterogeneity complicates the adaptomics of single transitions, and we propose that subpopulations will need to be integrated into future population biology and systems biology predictions of bacterial behavior.
Summary: The mating pheromone a-factor secreted by Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a farnesylated and carboxylmethylated peptide and is unusually hydrophobic compared to other extracellular signaling molecules. Mature a-factor is derived from a precursor with a C-terminal CAAX motif that directs a series of posttranslational reactions, including prenylation, endoproteolysis, and carboxylmethylation. Historically, a-factor has served as a valuable model for the discovery and functional analysis of CAAX-processing enzymes. In this review, we discuss the three modules comprising the a-factor biogenesis pathway: (i) the C-terminal CAAX-processing steps carried out by Ram1/Ram2, Ste24 or Rce1, and Ste14; (ii) two sequential N-terminal cleavage steps, mediated by Ste24 and Axl1; and (iii) export by a nonclassical mechanism, mediated by the ATP binding cassette (ABC) transporter Ste6. The small size and hydrophobicity of a-factor present both challenges and advantages for biochemical analysis, as discussed here. The enzymes involved in a-factor biogenesis are conserved from yeasts to mammals. Notably, studies of the zinc metalloprotease Ste24 in S. cerevisiae led to the discovery of its mammalian homolog ZMPSTE24, which cleaves the prenylated C-terminal tail of the nuclear scaffold protein lamin A. Mutations that alter ZMPSTE24 processing of lamin A in humans cause the premature-aging disease progeria and related progeroid disorders. Intriguingly, recent evidence suggests that the entire a-factor pathway, including all three biogenesis modules, may be used to produce a prenylated, secreted signaling molecule involved in germ cell migration in Drosophila. Thus, additional prenylated signaling molecules resembling a-factor, with as-yet-unknown roles in metazoan biology, may await discovery.
Summary: Proteolytic cleavage of proteins that are permanently or transiently associated with the cytoplasmic membrane is crucially important for a wide range of essential processes in bacteria. This applies in particular to the secretion of proteins and to membrane protein quality control. Major progress has been made in elucidating the structure-function relationships of many of the responsible membrane proteases, including signal peptidases, signal peptide hydrolases, FtsH, the rhomboid protease GlpG, and the site 1 protease DegS. These enzymes employ very different mechanisms to cleave substrates at the cytoplasmic and extracytoplasmic membrane surfaces or within the plane of the membrane. This review highlights the different ways that bacterial membrane proteases degrade their substrates, with special emphasis on catalytic mechanisms and substrate delivery to the respective active sites.
Summary: Evolution of RNA viruses occurs through disequilibria of collections of closely related mutant spectra or mutant clouds termed viral quasispecies. Here we review the origin of the quasispecies concept and some biological implications of quasispecies dynamics. Two main aspects are addressed: (i) mutant clouds as reservoirs of phenotypic variants for virus adaptability and (ii) the internal interactions that are established within mutant spectra that render a virus ensemble the unit of selection. The understanding of viruses as quasispecies has led to new antiviral designs, such as lethal mutagenesis, whose aim is to drive viruses toward low fitness values with limited chances of fitness recovery. The impact of quasispecies for three salient human pathogens, human immunodeficiency virus and the hepatitis B and C viruses, is reviewed, with emphasis on antiviral treatment strategies. Finally, extensions of quasispecies to nonviral systems are briefly mentioned to emphasize the broad applicability of quasispecies theory.
Summary: The eukaryotic heat shock response is an ancient and highly conserved transcriptional program that results in the immediate synthesis of a battery of cytoprotective genes in the presence of thermal and other environmental stresses. Many of these genes encode molecular chaperones, powerful protein remodelers with the capacity to shield, fold, or unfold substrates in a context-dependent manner. The budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae continues to be an invaluable model for driving the discovery of regulatory features of this fundamental stress response. In addition, budding yeast has been an outstanding model system to elucidate the cell biology of protein chaperones and their organization into functional networks. In this review, we evaluate our understanding of the multifaceted response to heat shock. In addition, the chaperone complement of the cytosol is compared to those of mitochondria and the endoplasmic reticulum, organelles with their own unique protein homeostasis milieus. Finally, we examine recent advances in the understanding of the roles of protein chaperones and the heat shock response in pathogenic fungi, which is being accelerated by the wealth of information gained for budding yeast.
Summary: One form of immune evasion is a developmental state called “persistence” whereby chlamydial pathogens respond to the host-mediated withdrawal of l-tryptophan (Trp). A sophisticated survival mode of reversible quiescence is implemented. A mechanism has evolved which suppresses gene products necessary for rapid pathogen proliferation but allows expression of gene products that underlie the morphological and developmental characteristics of persistence. This switch from one translational profile to an alternative translational profile of newly synthesized proteins is proposed to be accomplished by maximizing the Trp content of some proteins needed for rapid proliferation (e.g., ADP/ATP translocase, hexose-phosphate transporter, phosphoenolpyruvate [PEP] carboxykinase, the Trp transporter, the Pmp protein superfamily for cell adhesion and antigenic variation, and components of the cell division pathway) while minimizing the Trp content of other proteins supporting the state of persistence. The Trp starvation mechanism is best understood in the human-Chlamydia trachomatis relationship, but the similarity of up-Trp and down-Trp proteomic profiles in all of the pathogenic Chlamydiaceae suggests that Trp availability is an underlying cue relied upon by this family of pathogens to trigger developmental transitions. The biochemically expensive pathogen strategy of selectively increased Trp usage to guide the translational profile can be leveraged significantly with minimal overall Trp usage by (i) regional concentration of Trp residue placements, (ii) amplified Trp content of a single protein that is required for expression or maturation of multiple proteins with low Trp content, and (iii) Achilles'-heel vulnerabilities of complex pathways to high Trp content of one or a few enzymes.
Summary: The repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) is essential for cell viability and important for homologous genetic recombination. In enteric bacteria such as Escherichia coli, the major pathway of DSB repair requires the RecBCD enzyme, a complex helicase-nuclease regulated by a simple unique DNA sequence called Chi. How Chi regulates RecBCD has been extensively studied by both genetics and biochemistry, and two contrasting mechanisms to generate a recombinogenic single-stranded DNA tail have been proposed: the nicking of one DNA strand at Chi versus the switching of degradation from one strand to the other at Chi. Which of these reactions occurs in cells has remained unproven because of the inability to detect intracellular DNA intermediates in bacterial recombination and DNA break repair. Here, I discuss evidence from a combination of genetics and biochemistry indicating that nicking at Chi is the intracellular (in vivo) reaction. This example illustrates the need for both types of analysis (i.e., molecular biology) to uncover the mechanism and control of complex processes in living cells.
Summary: Francisella tularensis is a Gram-negative intracellular pathogen and the causative agent of the disease tularemia. Inhalation of as few as 10 bacteria is sufficient to cause severe disease, making F. tularensis one of the most highly virulent bacterial pathogens. The initial stage of infection is characterized by the “silent” replication of bacteria in the absence of a significant inflammatory response. Francisella achieves this difficult task using several strategies: (i) strong integrity of the bacterial surface to resist host killing mechanisms and the release of inflammatory bacterial components (pathogen-associated molecular patterns [PAMPs]), (ii) modification of PAMPs to prevent activation of inflammatory pathways, and (iii) active modulation of the host response by escaping the phagosome and directly suppressing inflammatory pathways. We review the specific mechanisms by which Francisella achieves these goals to subvert host defenses and promote pathogenesis, highlighting as-yet-unanswered questions and important areas for future study.
Summary: Flagellar and translocation-associated type III secretion (T3S) systems are present in most Gram-negative plant- and animal-pathogenic bacteria and are often essential for bacterial motility or pathogenicity. The architectures of the complex membrane-spanning secretion apparatuses of both systems are similar, but they are associated with different extracellular appendages, including the flagellar hook and filament or the needle/pilus structures of translocation-associated T3S systems. The needle/pilus is connected to a bacterial translocon that is inserted into the host plasma membrane and mediates the transkingdom transport of bacterial effector proteins into eukaryotic cells. During the last 3 to 5 years, significant progress has been made in the characterization of membrane-associated core components and extracellular structures of T3S systems. Furthermore, transcriptional and posttranscriptional regulators that control T3S gene expression and substrate specificity have been described. Given the architecture of the T3S system, it is assumed that extracellular components of the secretion apparatus are secreted prior to effector proteins, suggesting that there is a hierarchy in T3S. The aim of this review is to summarize our current knowledge of T3S system components and associated control proteins from both plant- and animal-pathogenic bacteria.
Summary: The yeast two-hybrid system pioneered the field of in vivo protein-protein interaction methods and undisputedly gave rise to a palette of ingenious techniques that are constantly pushing further the limits of the original method. Sensitivity and selectivity have improved because of various technical tricks and experimental designs. Here we present an exhaustive overview of the genetic approaches available to study in vivo binary protein interactions, based on two-hybrid and protein fragment complementation assays. These methods have been engineered and employed successfully in microorganisms such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Escherichia coli, but also in higher eukaryotes. From single binary pairwise interactions to whole-genome interactome mapping, the self-reassembly concept has been employed widely. Innovative studies report the use of proteins such as ubiquitin, dihydrofolate reductase, and adenylate cyclase as reconstituted reporters. Protein fragment complementation assays have extended the possibilities in protein-protein interaction studies, with technologies that enable spatial and temporal analyses of protein complexes. In addition, one-hybrid and three-hybrid systems have broadened the types of interactions that can be studied and the findings that can be obtained. Applications of these technologies are discussed, together with the advantages and limitations of the available assays.
Summary: The symbiosis between cnidarians (e.g., corals or sea anemones) and intracellular dinoflagellate algae of the genus Symbiodinium is of immense ecological importance. In particular, this symbiosis promotes the growth and survival of reef corals in nutrient-poor tropical waters; indeed, coral reefs could not exist without this symbiosis. However, our fundamental understanding of the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis and of its links to coral calcification remains poor. Here we review what we currently know about the cell biology of cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. In doing so, we aim to refocus attention on fundamental cellular aspects that have been somewhat neglected since the early to mid-1980s, when a more ecological approach began to dominate. We review the four major processes that we believe underlie the various phases of establishment and persistence in the cnidarian/coral-dinoflagellate symbiosis: (i) recognition and phagocytosis, (ii) regulation of host-symbiont biomass, (iii) metabolic exchange and nutrient trafficking, and (iv) calcification. Where appropriate, we draw upon examples from a range of cnidarian-alga symbioses, including the symbiosis between green Hydra and its intracellular chlorophyte symbiont, which has considerable potential to inform our understanding of the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. Ultimately, we provide a comprehensive overview of the history of the field, its current status, and where it should be going in the future.
Summary: Major insights into the phylogenetic distribution, biochemistry, and evolutionary significance of organelles involved in ATP synthesis (energy metabolism) in eukaryotes that thrive in anaerobic environments for all or part of their life cycles have accrued in recent years. All known eukaryotic groups possess an organelle of mitochondrial origin, mapping the origin of mitochondria to the eukaryotic common ancestor, and genome sequence data are rapidly accumulating for eukaryotes that possess anaerobic mitochondria, hydrogenosomes, or mitosomes. Here we review the available biochemical data on the enzymes and pathways that eukaryotes use in anaerobic energy metabolism and summarize the metabolic end products that they generate in their anaerobic habitats, focusing on the biochemical roles that their mitochondria play in anaerobic ATP synthesis. We present metabolic maps of compartmentalized energy metabolism for 16 well-studied species. There are currently no enzymes of core anaerobic energy metabolism that are specific to any of the six eukaryotic supergroup lineages; genes present in one supergroup are also found in at least one other supergroup. The gene distribution across lineages thus reflects the presence of anaerobic energy metabolism in the eukaryote common ancestor and differential loss during the specialization of some lineages to oxic niches, just as oxphos capabilities have been differentially lost in specialization to anoxic niches and the parasitic life-style. Some facultative anaerobes have retained both aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Diversified eukaryotic lineages have retained the same enzymes of anaerobic ATP synthesis, in line with geochemical data indicating low environmental oxygen levels while eukaryotes arose and diversified.
Summary: Cell-to-cell communication is a major process that allows bacteria to sense and coordinately react to the fluctuating conditions of the surrounding environment. In several pathogens, this process triggers the production of virulence factors and/or a switch in bacterial lifestyle that is a major determining factor in the outcome and severity of the infection. Understanding how bacteria control these signaling systems is crucial to the development of novel antimicrobial agents capable of reducing virulence while allowing the immune system of the host to clear bacterial infection, an approach likely to reduce the selective pressures for development of resistance. We provide here an up-to-date overview of the molecular basis and physiological implications of cell-to-cell signaling systems in Gram-negative bacteria, focusing on the well-studied bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. All of the known cell-to-cell signaling systems in this bacterium are described, from the most-studied systems, i.e., N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs), the 4-quinolones, the global activator of antibiotic and cyanide synthesis (GAC), the cyclic di-GMP (c-di-GMP) and cyclic AMP (cAMP) systems, and the alarmones guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp) and guanosine pentaphosphate (pppGpp), to less-well-studied signaling molecules, including diketopiperazines, fatty acids (diffusible signal factor [DSF]-like factors), pyoverdine, and pyocyanin. This overview clearly illustrates that bacterial communication is far more complex than initially thought and delivers a clear distinction between signals that are quorum sensing dependent and those relying on alternative factors for their production.
Summary: Detection of viruses by the innate immune system involves the action of specialized pattern recognition receptors. Intracellular RIG-I receptors sense the presence of viral nucleic acids in infected cells and trigger signaling pathways that lead to the production of proinflammatory and antiviral proteins. Over the past few years, posttranslational modification of RIG-I and downstream signaling proteins by different types of ubiquitination has been found to be a key event in the regulation of RIG-I-induced NF-κB and interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) activation. Multiple ubiquitin ligases, deubiquitinases, and ubiquitin binding scaffold proteins contribute to both positive and negative regulation of the RIG-I-induced antiviral immune response. A better understanding of the function and activity of these proteins might eventually lead to the development of novel therapeutic approaches for management of viral diseases.
Summary: The cytokine storm has captured the attention of the public and the scientific community alike, and while the general notion of an excessive or uncontrolled release of proinflammatory cytokines is well known, the concept of a cytokine storm and the biological consequences of cytokine overproduction are not clearly defined. Cytokine storms are associated with a wide variety of infectious and noninfectious diseases. The term was popularized largely in the context of avian H5N1 influenza virus infection, bringing the term into popular media. In this review, we focus on the cytokine storm in the context of virus infection, and we highlight how high-throughput genomic methods are revealing the importance of the kinetics of cytokine gene expression and the remarkable degree of redundancy and overlap in cytokine signaling. We also address evidence for and against the role of the cytokine storm in the pathology of clinical and infectious disease and discuss why it has been so difficult to use knowledge of the cytokine storm and immunomodulatory therapies to improve the clinical outcomes for patients with severe acute infections.
Summary: The phylum Actinobacteria harbors many important human pathogens and also provides one of the richest sources of natural products, including numerous antibiotics and other compounds of biotechnological interest. Thus, a reliable phylogeny of this large phylum and the means to accurately identify its different constituent groups are of much interest. Detailed phylogenetic and comparative analyses of >150 actinobacterial genomes reported here form the basis for achieving these objectives. In phylogenetic trees based upon 35 conserved proteins, most of the main groups of Actinobacteria as well as a number of their superageneric clades are resolved. We also describe large numbers of molecular markers consisting of conserved signature indels in protein sequences and whole proteins that are specific for either all Actinobacteria or their different clades (viz., orders, families, genera, and subgenera) at various taxonomic levels. These signatures independently support the existence of different phylogenetic clades, and based upon them, it is now possible to delimit the phylum Actinobacteria (excluding Coriobacteriia) and most of its major groups in clear molecular terms. The species distribution patterns of these markers also provide important information regarding the interrelationships among different main orders of Actinobacteria. The identified molecular markers, in addition to enabling the development of a stable and reliable phylogenetic framework for this phylum, also provide novel and powerful means for the identification of different groups of Actinobacteria in diverse environments. Genetic and biochemical studies on these Actinobacteria-specific markers should lead to the discovery of novel biochemical and/or other properties that are unique to different groups of Actinobacteria.
Summary: Cells encounter numerous signals during the development of an organism that induce division, differentiation, and apoptosis. These signals need to be present for defined intervals in order to induce stable changes in the cellular phenotype. The point after which an inducing signal is no longer needed for completion of a differentiation program can be termed the “commitment point.” Meiotic development in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sporulation) provides a model system to study commitment. Similar to differentiation programs in multicellular organisms, the sporulation program in yeast is regulated by a transcriptional cascade that produces early, middle, and late sets of sporulation-specific transcripts. Although critical meiosis-specific events occur as early genes are expressed, commitment does not take place until middle genes are induced. Middle promoters are activated by the Ndt80 transcription factor, which is produced and activated shortly before most middle genes are expressed. In this article, I discuss the connection between Ndt80 and meiotic commitment. A transcriptional regulatory pathway makes NDT80 transcription contingent on the prior expression of early genes. Once Ndt80 is produced, the recombination (pachytene) checkpoint prevents activation of the Ndt80 protein. Upon activation, Ndt80 triggers a positive autoregulatory loop that leads to the induction of genes that promote exit from prophase, the meiotic divisions, and spore formation. The pathway is controlled by multiple feed-forward loops that give switch-like properties to the commitment transition. The conservation of regulatory components of the meiotic commitment pathway and the recently reported ability of Ndt80 to increase replicative life span are discussed.