Yeast as a Heterologous Model System to Uncover Type III Effector Function

Crina Popa, Núria S. Coll, Marc Valls*, Guido Sessa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Type III effectors (T3E) are key virulence proteins that are injected by bacterial pathogens inside the cells of their host to subvert cellular processes and contribute to disease. The budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae represents an important heterologous system for the functional characterisation of T3E proteins in a eukaryotic environment. Importantly, yeast contains eukaryotic processes with low redundancy and are devoid of immunity mechanisms that counteract T3Es and mask their function. Expression in yeast of effectors from both plant and animal pathogens that perturb conserved cellular processes often resulted in robust phenotypes that were exploited to elucidate effector functions, biochemical properties, and host targets. The genetic tractability of yeast and its amenability for high-throughput functional studies contributed to the success of this system that, in recent years, has been used to study over 100 effectors. Here, we provide a critical view on this body of work and describe advantages and limitations inherent to the use of yeast in T3E research. “Favourite” targets of T3Es in yeast are cytoskeleton components and small GTPases of the Rho family. We describe how mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling, vesicle trafficking, membrane structures, and programmed cell death are also often altered by T3Es in yeast and how this reflects their function in the natural host. We describe how effector structure–function studies and analysis of candidate targeted processes or pathways can be carried out in yeast. We critically analyse technologies that have been used in yeast to assign biochemical functions to T3Es, including transcriptomics and proteomics, as well as suppressor, gain-of-function, or synthetic lethality screens. We also describe how yeast can be used to select for molecules that block T3E function in search of new antibacterial drugs with medical applications. Finally, we provide our opinion on the limitations of S. cerevisiae as a model system and its most promising future applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005360
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016


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