Compared to our current knowledge of neuronal excitation, little is known about the development and maturation of inhibitory circuits. Recent studies show that inhibitory circuits develop and mature in a similar way like excitatory circuit. One such similarity is the development through excitation, irrespective of its inhibitory nature. Here in this current study, I used the inhibitory projection between the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) and the lateral superior olive (LSO) as a model system to unravel some aspects of the development of inhibitory synapses. In LSO neurons of the rat auditory brainstem, glycine receptor-mediated responses change from depolarizing to hyperpolarizing during the first two postnatal weeks (Kandler and Friauf 1995, J. Neurosci. 15:6890-6904). The depolarizing effect of glycine is due to a high intracellular chloride concentration ([Cl-]i), which induces a reversal potential of glycine (EGly) more positive than the resting membrane potential (Vrest). In older LSO neurons, the hyperpolarizing effect is due to a low [Cl-]i (Ehrlich et al., 1999, J. Physiol. 520:121-137). Aim of the present study was to elucidate the molecular mechanism behind Clhomeostasis in LSO neurons which determines polarity of glycine response. To do so, the role and developmental expression of Cl-cotransporters, such as NKCC1 and KCC2 were investigated. Molecular biological and gramicidin perforated patchclamp experiments revealed, the role of KCC2 as an outward Cl-cotransporter in mature LSO neurons (Balakrishnan et al., 2003, J Neurosci. 23:4134-4145). But, NKCC1 does not appear to be involved in accumulating chloride in immature LSO neurons. Further experiments, indicated the role of GABA and glycine transporters (GAT1 and GLYT2) in accumulating Cl- in immature LSO neurons. Finally, the experiments with hypothyroid animals suggest the possible role of thyroid hormone in the maturation of inhibitory synapse. Altogether, this thesis addressed the molecular mechanism underlying the Cl- regulation in LSO neurons and deciphered it to some extent.
Herbivory is discussed as a key agent in maintaining dynamics and stability of tropical forested ecosystems. Accordingly increasing attention has been paid to the factors that structure tropical herbivore communities. The aim of this study was (1) to describe diversity, density, distribution and host range of the phasmid community (Phasmatodea) of a moist neotropical forest in Panamá, and (2) to experimentally assess bottom-up and top-down factors that may regulate populations of the phasmid Metriophasma diocles. The phasmid community of Barro Colorado Island was poor in species and low in density. Phasmids mainly occurred along forest edges and restricted host ranges of phasmid species reflected the successional status of their host plants. Only M. diocles that fed on early and late successional plants occurred regularly in the forest understory. A long generation time with a comparably low fecundity converted into a low biotic potential of M. diocles. However, modeled potential population density increased exponentially and exceeded the realized densities of this species already after one generation indicating that control factors continuously affect M. diocles natural populations. Egg hatching failure decreased potential population growth by 10 % but was of no marked effect at larger temporal scale. Interspecific differences in defensive physical and chemical leaf traits of M. diocles host plants, amongst them leaf toughness the supposedly most effective anti-herbivore defense, seemed not to affect adult female preference and nymph performance. Alternatively to these defenses, I suggest that the pattern of differential preference and performance may be based on interspecific differences in qualitative toxic compounds or in nutritive quality of leaves. The significant rejection of leaf tissue with a low artificial increase of natural phenol contents by nymphs indicated a qualitative defensive pathway in Piper evolution. In M. diocles, oviposition may not be linked to nymph performance, because the evolutionary prediction of a relation between female adult preference and nymph performance was missing. Consequently, the recruitment of nymphs into the reproductive adult phase may be crucially affected by differential performance of nymphs. Neonate M. diocles nymphs suffered strong predation pressure when exposed to natural levels of predation. Concluding from significantly increased predation-related mortality at night, I argue that arthropods may be the main predators of this nocturnal herbivore. Migratory behavior of nymphs seemed not to reflect predation avoidance. Instead, I provided first evidence that host plant quality may trigger off-plant migration. In conclusion, I suggest that predation pressure with its direct effects on nymph survival may be a stronger factor regulating M. diocles populations, compared to direct and indirect effects of host plant quality, particularly because slow growth and off-host migration both may feed back into an increase of predation related mortality.
Proteins of the intermembrane space of mitochondria are generally encoded by nuclear genes that are synthesized in the cytosol. A group of small intermembrane space proteins lack classical mitochondrial targeting sequences, but these proteins are imported in an oxidation-driven reaction that relies on the activity of two components, Mia40 and Erv1. Both proteins constitute the mitochondrial disulfide relay system. Mia40 functions as an import receptor that interacts with incoming polypeptides via transient, intermolecular disulfide bonds. Erv1 is an FAD-binding sulfhydryl oxidase that activates Mia40 by re-oxidation, but the process how Erv1 itself is re-oxidized has been poorly understood. Here, I show that Erv1 interacts with cytochrome c which provides a functional link between the mitochondrial disulfide relay system and the respiratory chain. This mechanism not only increases the efficiency of mitochondrial inport by the re-oxidation of Erv1 and Mia40 but also prevents the formation of deleterious hydrogen peroxide within the intermembrane space. Thus, the miochondrial disulfide relay system is, analogous to that of the bacterial periplasm, connected to the electron transport chain of the inner membrane, which possibly allows an oxygen-dependend regulation of mitochondrial import rates. In addition, I modeled the structure of Erv1 on the basis of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Erv2 crystal structure in order to gain insight into the molecular mechanism of Erv1. According to the high degree of sequence homologies, various characteristics found for Erv2 are also valid for Erv1. Finally, I propose a regulatory function of the disulfide relay system on the respiratory chain. The disulfide relay system senses the molecular oxygen levels in mitochondria and, thus, is able to adapt respiratory chain activity in order to prevent wastage of NADH and production of ROS.
In my doctoral thesis, I present new information about the developmental expression pattern of the potassium chloride cotransporter KCC2 in the rat auditory brain stem and the morphometrical effects caused by KCC2 gene silencing in mice. The thesis is divided into 3 Chapters. Chapter 1 is a general introduction which gives a brief outline of the primary ascending auditory pathway in mammals. Also, it provides information about the presence of a large number of inhibitory inputs in the auditory system and how these inputs develop; the involvement of inhibition in the acoustic processing is mentioned. In addition, the role of the KCC2 cotransporter in the shift of GABA/glycine transmission, and thus, in maintaining the normal level of inhibition in the mature brain, is described. The focus of Chapter 2 was to investigate the KCC2 immunofluorescent signal from postnatal day (P) 0 to P60 in four major nuclei of the rats superior olivary complex (SOC), namely the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), the medial superior olive (MSO), the lateral superior olive (LSO), and the superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN). The lack of a correlation between the continuous presence of KCC2 mRNA/protein in the postnatal rat brain stem on one side, and the shift in GABA/glycinergic polarity (i.e. KCC2 functionality) on the other side, prompted me to search for a specific cellular expression pattern of the KCC2 protein that might correlate with the switch in GABA/glycine signalling. To do so, the KCC2 immunoreactivity was analysed using high-resolution confocal microscopy in three cellular regions of interest: the soma surface, the soma interior, and the neuropil. In the soma surface, I observed an increase of the KCC2 immunofluorescent signal intensity, yet with a moderate magnitude (1.1 to 1.6-fold). Therefore, I conclude that the change in the soma surface signal is only of minor importance and does not explain the change in KCC2 functionality. The KCC2 signal intensity in the soma interior decreased in all nuclei (1.4 to 2-fold) with the exception of the MNTB where no statistically significant change was found. The decrease in the soma interior was probably related to the increase in the soma surface immunoreactivity and the proposed (weak) intracellular trafficking process of the KCC2 protein. The main developmental reorganization (in qualitative as well as in quantitative aspects) of the KCC2 immunofluorescence in the SOC nuclei was observed in the neuropil. The signal changed its pattern from a diffusely stained neuropil early in development (P0-P4) to a crisp and membrane-confined signal later on (P8-P60), with single dendrites becoming apparent. The exception was found in the MNTB, where the neuropil became almost unlabeled. Quantification revealed a statistically significant decrease (2.2 to 3.8-fold) in the neuropil immunoreactivity in all four nuclei, although the remaining KCC2-stained dendrites became thicker and the signal became stronger. I suppose that, at least in part, the neuropil reorganization can be explained by an age-related reduction of dendritic branches via a pruning mechanism and with the absence of an abnormal Cl- load via extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. This is consistent with the proposed additional role of KCC2, namely to maintain the cellular ionic homeostasis and to prevent dendritic swelling (Gulyás et al., 2001). In conclusion, neither the increase in the KCC2 soma surface signal intensity, nor the reorganization in the neuropil can be strictly related to the developmental switch in the GABA/glycine polarity and the onset of KCC2 function, although some correlation (the appearance of a specific membrane-confined dendritic pattern) between structure and function was found. Further implication of different molecular methods, regarding the proposed posttranslational modification of KCC2, will shed light upon the question of what leads to the functional activation of the cotransporter. In Chapter 3, the advantage of loss-of-function KCC2 mice made it possible, via manipulating the duration of the depolarizing phase of GABA/glycine transmission, to analyse the effect of disturbed Cl- regulation and, thus, the effect of disrupted GABA/glycine neurotransmission (lack of inhibition). I asked the following question: how important is the Cl- homeostasis to maintain general aspects (brain weight) and specific aspects (nucleus volume, neuron number, and soma cross-sectional area) of brain development? Brain stem slices from KCC2 knock-out animals (-/-), with a trace amount of transporter (~5%), as well as from wild type animals (+/+) at P3 and P12 were stained for Nissl substance and the analyses were performed with the help of basic morphometrical and stereological methods. In KCC2 (-/-) animals, body growth impairment was observed, in part related to the seizure activity preventing normal feeding (Woo et al., 2002). However, their brains, in terms of brain weight, were less affected. Therefore, I conclude that Cl- homeostasis is not essential per se to maintain the brain weight. Four auditory nuclei (MNTB, MSO, LSO, and ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN)), were compared with respect to the KCC2 null mutation. The SOC nuclei were not influenced by the lack of KCC2 at P3 considering the morphometric parameters. A difference in the number of neurons occurred in the VCN at P3. I suggest to perform additional immunohistochemical studies of glial presence related to its involvement in the structural and functional support of the neurons and their survival. At P12, the volume of the auditory nuclei in KCC2 (-/-) animals was smaller than in (+/+) animals. However, this is likely to be an epiphenomenon since the brain weight increase was also impaired with the same magnitude. Therefore, I suppose that the Cl- homeostasis is not crucial for the nucleus volume increase in the VCN, the MNTB and the MSO during development. An exception was found for the LSO. Regarding the other morphometric parameters at P12, the four nuclei behaved in a different way: (1) in the VCN, after P3, no parameter underwent a disproportional change due to impaired Cl- homeostasis; (2) the MNTB and the LSO showed less pronounced neuropil in mutants in comparison to age-matched controls and two reasons were proposed: first, the depolarizing GABA/glycine transmission in mutants may contribute to excessive Ca2+ load, excitotoxicity and dendrite damage; second, a decrease of some trophic factors may prevent dendrite development in addition to impaired normal body growth; (3) the MSO neurons in P12 (-/-) animals had smaller soma cross-sectional area than in P12 (+/+) animals. I conclude that the normal Cl- homeostasis is required in the MSO at older ages (P12) to achieve and maintain a proper soma size; (4) the lack of KCC2 did not prevent the process of neuronal differentiation in the VCN and the MNTB during development in both mutant and control animals. In conclusion, the various auditory nuclei have to be discussed independently regarding the influence of Cl- homeostasis on some morphometric parameters. Presumably, this is related to the different time of the shift in the GABA/glycine polarity i.e., the onset of KCC2 function (Srinivasan et al., 2004a). Taken together, my thesis accumulated data about the immunohistological expression pattern of KCC2 in various auditory brain stem nuclei and the influence of impaired Cl- homeostasis on some morphometric features in these nuclei. This information will be helpful for further investigations involved to discover the mechanisms and the events that govern the inhibition and the inhibitory pathway in the central auditory system.
Cyanobacteria are the only prokaryotes with the ability to conduct oxygenic photosynthesis,
therefore having major influence on the evolution of life on earth. Their diverse morphology
was traditionally the basis for taxonomy and classification. For example, the genus
Chroococcidiopsis has been classified within the order Pleurocapsales, based on a unique
reproduction modus by baeocytes. Recent phylogenetic results suggested a closer
relationship of this genus to the order Nostocales. However, these studies were based
mostly on the highly conserved 16S rRNA and a small selection of Chroococcidiopsis
strains. One aim of this present thesis was to investigate the evolutionary relationships of
the genus Chroococcidiopsis, the Pleurocapsales and remaining cyanobacteria using
16S rRNA, rpoC1 and gyrB gene. Including the single gene, as the multigene analyses of
97 strains clearly showed a separation of the genus Chroococcidiopsis from the
Pleurocapsales. Furthermore, a sister relationship between the genus Chroococcidiopsis
and the order Nostocales was confirmed. Consequently, the monogeneric family
Chroococcidiopsidaceae Geitler ex. Büdel, Donner & Kauff familia nova is justified. The
phylogenetic analyses also revealed the polyphyly of the remaining Pleurocapsales, due to
the fact that the strain Pleurocapsa PCC 7327 was always separated from other strains.
This is supported by differences in their metabolism, ecology and physiology.
A second aim of this study was to investigate the thylakoid arrangement of
Chroococcidiopsis and a selection of cyanobacterial strains. The investigation of 13 strains
with Low Temperature Scanning Electron Microscopy revealed two unknown thylakoidal
arrangements within Chroococcidiopsis (parietal and stacked). This result revised the
knowledge of the thylakoid arrangement in this genus. Previously, only a coiled
arrangement was known for three strains. Based on the data of 66 strains, the feature
thylakoid arrangement was tested as a potential feature for morphological identification of
cyanobacteria. The results showed a strong relationship between the group assignment of
cyanobacteria and their thylakoid arrangements. Hence, it is in general possible to
conclude from this certain phenotypic character the affiliation to a particular family, order
The third aim of this study was to investigate biogeographical patterns of the worldwide
distributed genus Chroococcidiopsis. The phylogenetic analysis suggested that the genus do not have biogeographical patterns, which is in contrast with a recent study on hypolithic
living Chroococcidiopsis strains and the majority of phylogeographic analysis of
microorganisms. Further analysis showed no separation of different life-strategies within
the genus. These results could be related to the genetic markers utilized, which may not
contain biogeographical information. Hence the present study can neither exclude nor
prove the possibility of biogeographic and life-strategy patterns in the genus
Future research should be focused on finding appropriate genetic markers investigate of
evolutionary relationships and biogeographical patterns within Chroococcidiopsis.
Membrane proteins are generally soluble only in the presence of detergent micelles or other membrane-mimetic systems, which renders the determination of the protein’s molar mass or oligomeric state difficult. Moreover, the amount of bound detergent varies drastically among different proteins and detergents. However, the type of detergent and its concentration have a great influence on the protein’s structure, stability, and functionality and the success of structural and functional investigations and crystallographic trials. Size-exclusion chromatography, which is commonly used to determine the molar mass of water-soluble proteins, is not suitable for detergent-solubilised proteins because
the protein–detergent complex has a different conformation and, thus, commonly exhibits
a different migration behaviour than globular standard proteins. Thus, calibration curves obtained with standard proteins are not useful for membrane-protein analysis. However,
the combination of size-exclusion chromatography with ultraviolet absorbance, static light scattering, and refractive index detection provides a tool to determine the molar mass of protein–detergent complexes in an absolute manner and allows for distinguishing the contributions of detergent and protein to the complex.
The goal of this thesis was to refine the standard triple-detection size-exclusion chromatography measurement and data analysis procedure for challenging membrane-protein samples, non-standard detergents, and difficult solvents such as concentrated denaturant solutions that were thought to elude routine approaches. To this end, the influence of urea on the performance of the method beyond direct influences on detergents and proteins was investigated with the help of the water-soluble bovine serum albumin. On the basis of
the obtained results, measurement and data analysis procedures were refined for different detergents and protein–detergent complexes comprising the membrane proteins OmpLA and Mistic from Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis, respectively.
The investigations on mass and shape of different detergent micelles and the compositions of protein–detergent complexes in aqueous buffer and concentrated urea solutions
showed that triple-detection size-exclusion chromatography provides valuable information
about micelle masses and shapes under various conditions. Moreover, it is perfectly suited for the straightforward analysis of detergent-suspended proteins in terms of composition and oligomeric state not only under native but, more importantly, also under denaturing conditions.
Prostate cancer preferentially metastasizes to the skeleton and abundant evidence exists that osteoblasts specifically support the metastatic process, including cancer stem cell niche formation. At early stages of bone metastasis, crosstalk of prostate cancer cells and osteoblasts through soluble molecules results in a decrease of cancer cell proliferation, accompanied by altered adhesive properties and increased expression of bone-specific genes, or osteomimicry. Osteoblasts synthesize a plethora of biologically active factors, which comprise the unique bone microenvironment. By means of quantitative real-time RT-PCR it was determined that exposure to the osteoblast secretome induced gene expression changes in prostate cancer cells, including the upregulation of osteomimetic genes such as BMP2, AP, COL1A1, OPG and RANKL. IL6 and TGFbeta1 signaling pathway components also became upregulated at early time points. Moreover, osteoblast-released IL6 and TGFbeta1 contributed to the upregulation of OPG mRNA in LNCaP. Thus, the earliest response of prostate cancer cells to osteoblast-released factors, which ultimately cause metastatic cells to assume an osteomimetic phenotype, involved activation of paracrine and autocrine IL6 and TGFbeta signaling. On the other hand, a microarray analysis showed that osteoblasts exposed to the secretome of prostate cancer cells exhibited gene expression alterations suggestive of repressed proliferation, decreased matrix synthesis and inhibited immune response, which together indicate enhanced preosteocytic differentiation. TGFbeta signaling, known to inhibit osteoblast maturation, was strongly suppressed, as shown by elevated expression of negative regulators, downregulation of pathway components and of numerous target genes. Transcriptional downregulation of osteoblast inhibitory molecules such as DKK1 and FST also occurred, with concomitant upregulation of the osteoinductive molecules ADM, STC1 and BMP2, and of the transcription factors CBFA1 and HES1, which promote osteoblast differentiation. Finally, the mRNA encoding NPPB, the precursor of a molecule implicated in the inhibition of TGFbetaeffects, in bone formation and in stem cell maintenance, became upregulated after coculture both in osteoblasts and in prostate cancer cells. These results provide an insight into potential mechanisms of dysregulated bone formation in metastatic prostate cancer, as well as mechanisms by which osteoblasts might enhance the invasive, osteomimetic and stem cell-like properties of the tumor cells. In particular, the differential modulation of TGFbetasignaling in prostate cancer cells and osteoblasts appears to merit further research.
The study provides insights into the dynamic processes of vascular epiphyte vegetation in two host tree species of lowland forest in Panama. Further, a novel approach is presented to examine the possible role of host tree identity in the structuring of vascular epiphyte communities: For three locally common host tree species (Socratea exorrhiza, Marila laxiflora, Perebea xanthochyma) we created null models of the expected epiphyte assemblages assuming that epiphyte colonization reflected random distribution of epiphytes in the forest. In all three tree species, abundances of the majority of epiphyte species (69 – 81 %) were indistinguishable from random, while the remaining species were about equally over- or underrepresented compared to their occurrence in the entire forest plot. Permutations based on the number of colonized trees (reflecting observed spatial patchiness) yielded similar results. Finally, a Canonical Correspondence Analysis also confirmed host-specific differences in epiphyte assemblages. In spite of pronounced preferences of some epiphytes for particular host trees, no epiphyte species was restricted to a single host. We conclude that the epiphytes on a given tree species are not simply a random sample of the local species pool, but there are no indications of host specificity either. To determine the qualitative and quantitative long-term changes in the vascular epiphyte assemblage of the host tree Socratea exorrhiza, in the lowland forest of the San Lorenzo Crane Plot, we followed the fate of the vascular epiphyte assemblage on 99 individuals of this palm species, in three censuses over the course of five years. The composition of the epiphyte assemblage changed little during the course of the study. While the similarity of epiphyte vegetation decreased on single palm individuals through time, the similarity analyzed over all palms increased. Even well-established epiphyte individuals experienced high mortality with only 46 % of the originally mapped individuals surviving the following five years. We found a positive correlation between host tree size and epiphyte richness and detected higher colonization rates of epiphytes per surface area on larger trees. Epiphyte assemblages on single Socratea exorrhiza trees were highly dynamic while the overall composition of the epiphyte vegetation on the host tree species in the study plot was rather stable. We suggest that higher recruitment rates due to localized seed dispersal by already established epiphytes on larger palms promote the colonization of epiphytes on larger palms. Given the known growth rates and mortality rates of the host tree species, the maximum time available for colonization and reproduction of epiphytes on a given Socratea exorrhiza tree is estimated to be about 60 years. Changes in the epiphyte vegetation of c. 1000 individuals of the host tree species Annona glabra at Barro Colorado Island over the course of eight year were documented by means of repeated censuses. Considerable increase in the abundance of the dominating epiphyte species and ongoing colonization of the host tree species suggests that the epiphyte vegetation has not reached a steady state in the maximal 80 years since the establishment of the host tree. Epiphyte species composition as a whole was rather stable. We disentangled the relationship between epiphyte colonization and tree size/available time for colonization with the finding that tree size explained only a low proportion of colonization while other factors like connectivity to dispersal source and time explain may explain a larger part. Epiphyte populations are patchily distributed and examined species exhibit properties of a metapopulation with asynchronous local population growth, high local population turnover, a positive relationship between regional occurrence and patch population size, and negatively correlated relationship between extinction and patch occupancy. The documented metapopulation processes highlight the importance of not colonized suitable habitat for the conservation of epiphytes.
Haustoria of the rust fungus pathogen Uromyces fabae deliver RTP1 (Rust Transferred Protein1) into host plant cells. In this work, different heterologous expression systems were used to study RTP1 biological function as well as RTP1 transfer mechanism. The first part of this thesis focused on the identification of the subcellular target compartment of RTP1 in plant cells. In this respect we could identify a functional bipartite nuclear localization signal within RTP1. However, stable and transient expression studies of RTP1 in different plant species, including the host plant Vicia faba, interfered with plant cell vitality but did not result in detection of RTP1 protein. These findings led us to propose that RTP1 interferes with plant gene expression. However, the molecular basis of this interference remains unclear. By deletion studies, we could localize the active region of RTP1 within a 45 amino acid central domain. In the second part of this study, two different lines of approaches were taken to study RTP1 transfer mechanism. First, transient expression of secreted RTP1 (sRTP1) also interfered with plant cell vitality. Addition of an endoplasmic reticulum retention signal abolished sRTP1 interference with plant cell vitality, suggesting that RTP1 can reenter the plant cell from the apoplast after secretion in the absence of the pathogen. We have identified a PEST-like region within RTP1, however, contribution of this region to the stability of RTP1 is not clear. Site directed mutagenesis analysis showed that the PEST-like region is likely to play a role during the transfer of RTP1 through plant plasma membrane. In the second line of approach, we established a recombinant delivery model, using Ustilago maydis/Zea mays pathosystem, to pursue RTP1 translocation into the plant cell. Our results indicate that U. maydis is capable of secreting high amounts of recombinant RTP1, showing similar glycosylation pattern as RTP1 secreted from rust haustoria. Our data propose the use of this model system to study RTP1 domains mediating its entry into the plant cell. Haustoria of the rust fungus pathogen Uromyces fabae deliver RTP1 (Rust Transferred Protein1) into host plant cells. In this work, different heterologous expression systems were used to study RTP1 biological function as well as RTP1 transfer mechanism. The first part of this thesis focused on the identification of the subcellular target compartment of RTP1 in plant cells. In this respect we could identify a functional bipartite nuclear localization signal within RTP1. However, stable and transient expression studies of RTP1 in different plant species, including the host plant Vicia faba, interfered with plant cell vitality but did not result in detection of RTP1 protein. These findings led us to propose that RTP1 interferes with plant gene expression. However, the molecular basis of this interference remains unclear. By deletion studies, we could localize the active region of RTP1 within a 45 amino acid central domain. In the second part of this study, two different lines of approaches were taken to study RTP1 transfer mechanism. First, transient expression of secreted RTP1 (sRTP1) also interfered with plant cell vitality. Addition of an endoplasmic reticulum retention signal abolished sRTP1 interference with plant cell vitality, suggesting that RTP1 can reenter the plant cell from the apoplast after secretion in the absence of the pathogen. We have identified a PEST-like region within RTP1, however, contribution of this region to the stability of RTP1 is not clear. Site directed mutagenesis analysis showed that the PEST-like region is likely to play a role during the transfer of RTP1 through plant plasma membrane. In the second line of approach, we established a recombinant delivery model, using Ustilago maydis/Zea mays pathosystem, to pursue RTP1 translocation into the plant cell. Our results indicate that U. maydis is capable of secreting high amounts of recombinant RTP1, showing similar glycosylation pattern as RTP1 secreted from rust haustoria. Our data propose the use of this model system to study RTP1 domains mediating its entry into the plant cell.
Fragmentation of habitats, especially of tropical rainforests, ranks globally among the most pervasive man-made disturbances of ecosystems. There is growing evidence for long-term effects of forest frag-mentation and the accompanying creation of artificial edges on ecosystem functioning and forest structure, which are altered in a way that generally transforms these forests into early successional systems. Edge-induced disruption of species interactions can be among the driving mechanisms governing this transformation. These species interactions can be direct (trophic interactions, competition, etc.) or indirect (modification of the resource availability for other organisms). Such indirect interactions are called ecosystem engineering. Leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta are dominant herbivores and keystone-species in the Neotropics and have been called ecosystem engineers. In contrast to other prominent ecosystem engineers that have been substantially decimated by human activities some species of leaf-cutting ants profit from anthropogenic landscape alterations. Thus, leaf-cutting ants are a highly suitable model to investigate the potentially cascading effects caused by herbivores and ecosystem engineers in modern anthropogenic landscapes following fragmentation. The present thesis aims to describe this interplay between consequences of forest fragmentation for leaf-cutting ants and resulting impacts of leaf-cutting ants in fragmented forests. The cumulative thesis starts out with a review of 55 published articles demonstrating that herbivores, especially generalists, profoundly benefit from forest edges, often due to (1) favourable microenviron-mental conditions, (2) an edge-induced increase in food quantity/quality, and (3; less well documented) disrupted top-down regulation of herbivores (Wirth, Meyer et al. 2008; Progress in Botany 69:423-448). Field investigations in the heavily fragmented Atlantic Forest of Northeast Brazil (Coimbra forest) were subsequently carried out to evaluate patterns and hypotheses emerging from this review using leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta as a model system. Colony densities of both Atta species occuring in the area changed similarly with distance to the edge but the magnitude of the effect was species-specific. Colony density of A. cephalotes was low in the forest interior (0.33 ± 1.11 /ha, pooling all zones >50 m into the forest) and sharply increased by a factor of about 8.5 towards the first 50 m (2.79 ± 3.3 /ha), while A. sexdens was more uniformly distributed (Wirth, Meyer et al. 2007; Journal of Tropical Ecology 23:501-505). The accumulation of Atta colonies persisted at physically stable forest edges over a four-year interval with no significant difference in densities between years despite high rates of colony turn-over (little less than 50% in 4 years). Stable hyper-abundant populations of leaf-cutting ants accord with the constantly high availability of pioneer plants (their preferred food source) as previously demonstrated at old stabilised forest edges in the region (Meyer et al. submitted; Biotropica). In addition, plants at the forest edge might be more attractive to leaf-cutting ants because of their physiological responses to the edge environment. In bioassays with laboratory colonies I demonstrated that drought-stressed plants are more attractive to leaf-cutting ants because of an increase in leaf nutrient content induced by osmoregulation (Meyer et al. 2006; Functional Ecology 20:973-981). Since plants along forest edges are more prone to experience drought stress, this mechanism might contribute to the high resource availabil-ity for leaf-cutting ants at forest edges. In light of the hyper-abundance of leaf-cutting ants within the forest edge zone (first 50 m), their po-tentially far-reaching ecological importance in anthropogenic landscapes is apparent. Based on previous colony-level estimates, we extrapolated that herbivory by A. cephalotes removes 36% of the available foliage at forest edges (compared to 6% in the forest interior). In addition, A. cephalotes acted as ecosys-tem engineers constructing large nests (on average 55 m2: 95%-CI: 22-136) that drastically altered forest structure. The ants opened gaps in the canopy and forest understory at nest sites, which allowed three times as much light to reach the nest surface as compared to the forest understory. This was accompa-nied by an increase in soil temperatures and a reduction in water availability. Modifications of microcli-mate and forest structure greatly surpassed previously published estimates. Since higher light levels were detectable up to about 4 m away from the nest edge, an area roughly four times as big as the actual nest (about 200 and 50 m2, respectively) was impacted by every colony, amounting to roughly 6% of the total area at the forest edge (Meyer et al. in preparation; Ecology). The hypothesized impacts of high cutting pressure and microclimatic alterations at nest sites on forest regeneration were directly tested using transplanted seedlings of six species of forest trees. Nests of A. cephalotes differentially impacted survival and growth of seedlings. Survival differed highly significantly between habitats and species and was generally high in the forest, yet low on nests where it correlated strongly with seed size of the species. These results indicate that the disturbance regime created by leaf-cutting ants differs from other distur-bances, since nest conditions select for plant species that profit from additional light, yet are large-seeded and have resprouting abilities, which are best suited to tolerate repeated defoliation on a nest (Meyer et al. in preparation; Journal of Tropical Ecology). On an ecosystem scale leaf-cutting ants might amplify edge-driven microclimatic alterations by very high rates of herbivory and the maintenance of canopy gaps above frequent nests. By allowing for an increased light penetration Atta may, ultimately, contribute to a dominating, self-replacing pioneer communities at forest edges, possibly creating a positive feed-back loop. Based on the persisting hyper-abundance of leaf-cutting ants at old edges of Coimbra forest and the multifarious impacts documented, we conclude that the ecological importance of leaf-cutting ants in pristine forests, where they are commonly believed to be keystone species despite very low colony densities, is greatly surpassed in anthropogenic landscapes In fragmented forests, Atta has been identified as an essential component of a disturbance regime that causes a post-fragmentation retrogressive succession. Apparently, these forests have reached a new self-replacing secondary state. I suggest additional human interference in form of thoughtful management in order to break this cycle of self-enhancing disturbance and to enable forest regeneration along the edges of threatened forest remnants. Thereby the situation of the forest as a whole can be ameliorated and the chances for a long-term retention of biodiversity in these landscapes increased.