All living organisms require nutrient minerals for growth and have developed mechanisms to acquire, utilize, and store nutrient minerals effectively. In the aqueous cellular environment, these elements exist as charged ions that, together with protons and hydroxide ions, facilitate biochemical reactions and establish the electrochemical gradients across membranes that drive cellular processes such as transport and ATP synthesis. Metal ions serve as essential enzyme cofactors and perform both structural and signaling roles within cells. However, because these ions can also be toxic, cells have developed sophisticated homeostatic mechanisms to regulate their levels and avoid toxicity. Studies in Saccharomyces cerevisiae have characterized many of the gene products and processes responsible for acquiring, utilizing, storing, and regulating levels of these ions. Findings in this model organism have often allowed the corresponding machinery in humans to be identified and have provided insights into diseases that result from defects in ion homeostasis. This review summarizes our current understanding of how cation balance is achieved and modulated in baker's yeast. Control of intracellular pH is discussed, as well as uptake, storage, and efflux mechanisms for the alkali metal cations, Na and K, the divalent cations, Ca and Mg, and the trace metal ions, Fe, Zn, Cu, and Mn. Signal transduction pathways that are regulated by pH and Ca are reviewed, as well as the mechanisms that allow cells to maintain appropriate intracellular cation concentrations when challenged by extreme conditions, i.e., either limited availability or toxic levels in the environment.
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