Although yeast cells grown in abundant glucose tend to acidify their extracellular environment, they raise the pH of the environment when starved for glucose or when grown strictly with non-fermentable carbon sources. Following prolonged periods in this alkaline phase, Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells will switch to producing acid. The mechanisms and rationale for this "acid burst" were unknown. Herein we provide strong evidence for the role of mitochondrial superoxide in initiating the acid burst. Yeast mutants lacking the mitochondrial matrix superoxide dismutase (SOD2) enzyme, but not the cytosolic Cu,Zn-SOD1 enzyme, exhibited marked acceleration in production of acid on non-fermentable carbon sources. Acid production is also dramatically enhanced by the superoxide-producing agent, paraquat. Conversely, the acid burst is eliminated by boosting cellular levels of Mn-antioxidant mimics of SOD. We demonstrate that the acid burst is dependent on the mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase Ald4p. Our data are consistent with a model in which mitochondrial superoxide damage to Fe-S enzymes in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle leads to acetate buildup by Ald4p. The resultant expulsion of acetate into the extracellular environment can provide a new carbon source to glucose-starved cells and enhance growth of yeast. By triggering production of organic acids, mitochondrial superoxide has the potential to promote cell population growth under nutrient depravation stress.
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