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Abstract/Summary Cells maintain membrane fluidity by regulating lipid saturation, but the molecular mechanisms of this homeoviscous adaptation remain poorly understood. Here, we have reconstituted the core machinery for sensing and regulating lipid saturation in baker’s yeast to directly characterize its response to defined membrane environments. Using spectroscopic techniques and in vitro ubiquitylation, we uncover a unique sensitivity of the transcriptional regulator Mga2 to the abundance, position, and configuration of double bonds in lipid acyl chains and provide unprecedented insight into the molecular rules of membrane adaptivity. Our data challenge the prevailing hypothesis that membrane viscosity serves as the measured variable for regulating lipid saturation. Rather, we show that the signaling output of Mga2 correlates with the size of a single sensor residue in the transmembrane helix, which senses the lateral pressure and/or compressibility profile in a defined region of the membrane. Our findings suggest that membrane property sensors have evolved remarkable sensitivities to highly specific aspects of membrane structure and dynamics, thus paving the way toward the development of genetically encoded reporters for such membrane properties in the future.

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