A stress-blinded Atf1 favors heterochromatin formation but impairs directionality of mat2/3 switching
The MAP kinase Sty1 phosphorylates and activates the transcription factor Atf1 in response to several stress conditions, which then shifts from a transcriptional repressor to an activator. Atf1 also participates in heterochromatin assembly at the mat locus, in combination with the RNA interference (RNAi) machinery. Here, we study the role of signal-dependent phosphorylation of Atf1 in heterochromatin establishment at mat, using different Atf1 phospho mutants. While a hypo-phosphorylation Atf1 mutant, Atf1.10M, mediates heterochromatin assembly, a phosphomimic Atf1.10D is unable to maintain silencing. In a minimal mat locus, lacking the RNAi-recruiting cis elements and displaying intermediate silencing, Atf1.10M restores full heterochromatin assembly capacity. However, evolution experiments with this stress-blinded Atf1.10M show that it is unable to facilitate switching between the donor site mat3 and mat1. We propose that the unphosphorylated, inactive Atf1 contributes to proper heterochromatin assembly by recruiting repressive complexes, but its stress-dependent phosphorylation is required for recombination/switching to occur. The plasticity of a transcription factor explains its contribution to apparent antagonistic processes, such as chromatin silencing and accessibility to the large DNA recombination machinery.