High prevalence of a fungal prion

A.J.M. Debets, H.J.P. Dalstra, S.M. Slakhorst, A.B. Koopmanschap-Memelink, R.F. Hoekstra, S.J. Saupe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Prions are infectious proteins that cause fatal diseases in mammals. Prions have also been found in fungi, but studies on their role in nature are scarce. The proposed biological function of fungal prions is debated and varies from detrimental to benign or even beneficial. [Het-s] is a prion of the fungus Podospora anserina. The het-s locus exists as two antagonistic alleles that constitute an allorecognition system: the het-s allele encoding the protein variant capable of prion formation and the het-S allele encoding a protein variant that cannot form a prion. We document here that het-s alleles, capable of prion formation, are nearly twice as frequent as het-S alleles in a natural population of 112 individuals. Then, we report a 92% prevalence of [Het-s] prion infection among the het-s isolates and find evidence of the role of the [Het-s]/het-S allorecognition system on the incidence of infection by a deleterious senescence plasmid. We explain the het-s/het-S allele ratios by the existence of two selective forces operating at different levels. We propose that during the somatic stage, the role of [Het-s]/HET-S in allorecognition leads to frequency-dependent selection for which an equilibrated frequency would be optimal. However, in the sexual cycle, the [Het-s] prion causes meiotic drive favoring the het-s allele. Our findings indicate that [Het-s] is a selected and, therefore, widespread prion whose activity as selfish genetic element is counteracted by balancing selection for allorecognition polymorphism
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10432-10437
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • podospora-anserina
  • vegetative incompatibility
  • het-s
  • heterokaryon incompatibility
  • neurospora-crassa
  • meiotic drive
  • yeast prion
  • mechanism
  • diseases
  • genes


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