The Functions of Grainy Head-Like Proteins in Animals and Fungi and the Evolution of Apical Extracellular Barriers
The Grainy head (GRH) family of transcription factors are crucial for the development and repair of epidermal barriers in all animals in which they have been studied. This is a high-level functional conservation, as the known structural and enzymatic genes regulated by GRH proteins differ between species depending on the type of epidermal barrier being formed. Interestingly, members of the CP2 superfamily of transcription factors, which encompasses the GRH and LSF families in animals, are also found in fungi – organisms that lack epidermal tissues. To shed light on CP2 protein function in fungi, we characterized a Neurospora crassa mutant lacking the CP2 member we refer to as grainy head-like (grhl). We show that Neurospora GRHL has a DNA-binding specificity similar to that of animal GRH proteins and dissimilar to that of animal LSF proteins. Neurospora grhl mutants are defective in conidial-spore dispersal due to an inability to remodel the cell wall, and we show that grhl mutants and the long-known conidial separation-2 (csp-2) mutants are allelic. We then characterized the transcriptomes of both Neurospora grhl mutants and Drosophila grh mutant embryos to look for similarities in the affected genes. Neurospora grhl appears to play a role in the development and remodeling of the cell wall, as well as in the activation of genes involved in defense and virulence. Drosophila GRH is required to activate the expression of many genes involved in cuticular/epidermal-barrier formation. We also present evidence that GRH plays a role in adult antimicrobial defense. These results, along with previous studies of animal GRH proteins, suggest the fascinating possibility that the apical extracellular barriers of some animals and fungi might share an evolutionary connection, and that the formation of physical barriers in the last common ancestor was under the control of a transcriptional code that included GRH-like proteins.