The contribution of ubiquitin-mediated mechanisms in the regulation of the Toxoplasma gondii cell cycle has remained largely unexplored. Here, we describe the functional characterization of a T. gondii deubiquitinase (TGGT1_258780) of the ovarian-tumor domain-containing (OTU) family, which, based on its structural homology to the human OTUD3 clade, has been designated TgOTUD3A. The TgOTUD3A protein is expressed in a cell cycle-dependent manner mimicking its mRNA expression, indicating that it is regulated primarily at the transcriptional level. TgOTUD3A, which was found in the cytoplasm at low levels in G1 parasites, increased in abundance with the progression of the cell cycle and exhibited partial localization to the developing daughter scaffolds during cytokinesis. Recombinant TgOTUD3A but not a catalytic-site mutant TgOTUD3A (C229A) exhibited activity against poly- but not monoubiquitinated targets. This activity was selective for polyubiquitin chains with preference for specific lysine linkages (K48 > K11 > K63). All three of these polyubiquitin linkage modifications were found to be present in Toxoplasma, where they exhibited differential levels and localization patterns in a cell cycle-dependent manner. TgOTUD3A removed ubiquitin from the K48- but not the K63-linked ubiquitinated T. gondii proteins independently of the modified target protein, thereby exhibiting the characteristics of an exodeubiquitinase. In addition to cell cycle association, the demonstration of multiple ubiquitin linkages together with the selective deubiquitinase activity of TgOTUD3A reveals an unappreciated level of complexity in the T. gondii "ubiquitin code." IMPORTANCE The role of ubiquitin-mediated processes in the regulation of the apicomplexan cell cycle is beginning to be elucidated. The recent analysis of the Toxoplasma "ubiquitome" highlights the importance of ubiquitination in the parasite cell cycle. The machinery regulating the ubiquitin dynamics in T. gondii has remained understudied. Here, we provide a biochemical characterization of an OTU (ovarian tumor) family deubiquitinase, TgOTUD3A, defining its localization and dynamic expression pattern at various stages of the cell cycle. We further establish that TgOTUD3A has activity preference for polyubiquitin chains with certain lysine linkages-such unique activity has not been previously reported in any apicomplexan. This is particularly important given the finding in this study that Toxoplasma gondii proteins are modified by diverse lysine-linked polyubiquitin chains and that these modifications are very dynamic across the cell cycle, pointing toward the sophistication of the "ubiquitin code" as a potential mechanism to regulate parasite biology.
We are accepting applications for postdoctoral
candidates who are interested in elucidating the role of autophagy proteins in
the medically important pathogen Toxoplasmagondii. Related to the malaria
parasite, Toxoplasma causes serious
opportunistic disease in congenitally infected infants and in immunocompromised
(HIV/AIDS) patients. This is an NIH-funded position in the laboratories of Drs.
Gustavo Arrizabalaga (www.arrizabalagalab.org) and Bill Sullivan (www.sullivanlab.com). Projects include investigating the role of
unusual parasite autophagy proteins in microbial latency and how
post-translational modifications affect autophagy processes.
The position requires a Ph.D., expertise in cell/molecular
biology or biochemistry, and excellent communication skills (speaking and
writing English). Experience in microbiology/parasitology is a plus, but not
required. Submit CV and contact information for three references to email@example.com. Applicants that
include a brief description of project ideas will have priority.
Our laboratories are part of the “BIP” (Biology
of Intracellular Pathogens) group at the Indiana University School of Medicine
(IUSM): http://wjsulliv.wix.com/bipatiu. Located in downtown
Indianapolis, IUSM (http://medicine.iu.edu/) is the second largest medical school in the US and boasts an outstanding intellectual atmosphere
and core facilities. IUSM was nationally ranked in the Top 30 Best Places to
Work for Postdocs. IUSM is an equal opportunity employer.
Microtubule-based cytoskeletal structures have fundamental roles in several essential eukaryotic processes, including transport of intracellular constituents as well as ciliary and flagellar mobility. Temporal and spatial organisation of microtubules is determined by microtubule organising centers and a number of appendages and accessory proteins. Members of the SSNA1/DIP13 family are coiled coil proteins that are known to localise to microtubular structures like centrosomes and flagella, but are otherwise poorly characterised. We have identified a homologue of SSNA1/DIP13 in the parasitic protist Toxoplasma gondii and found it localises to parasite-specific cytoskeletal structures: the conoid in the apical complex of mature and dividing cells, and the basal complex in elongating daughter cells during cell division. This protein is dispensable for parasite growth in vitro. However, quite remarkably, this coiled coil protein is able to self-associate into higher order structures both in vitro and in vivo, and its overexpression is impairing parasite division.
Development of an Orally Available and Central Nervous System (CNS)-Penetrant Toxoplasma gondii calcium-dependent protein kinase 1 (TgCDPK1) Inhibitor with Minimal Human Ether-à-go-go-Related Gene (hERG) Activity for the Treatment of Toxoplasmosis
New therapies are needed for the treatment of toxoplasmosis, which is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. To this end, we previously developed a potent and selective inhibitor (compound 1) of Toxoplasma gondii calcium-dependent protein kinase 1 (TgCDPK1) that possesses anti-toxoplasmosis activity in vitro and in vivo. Unfortunately, 1 has potent human Ether-à-go-go-Related Gene (hERG) inhibitory activity, associated with long Q-T syndrome-which presents a cardiotoxicity risk. Here, we describe the identification of an optimized TgCDPK1 inhibitor 32, which does not have a hERG liability and possesses a favorable pharmacokinetic profile in small and large animals. 32 is CNS-penetrant and highly effective in acute and latent mouse models of T. gondii infection, significantly reducing the amount of parasite in the brain, spleen, and peritoneal fluid and reducing brain cysts by >85%. These properties make 32 a promising lead for the development of a new anti-toxoplasmosis therapy.
The urgent need to develop new antimicrobial therapies has spawned the development of repurposing screens in which well-studied drugs and other types of compounds are tested for potential off-label uses. As a proof-of-principle screen to identify compounds effective against Toxoplasma gondii, we screened a collection of 1,120 compounds for the ability to significantly reduce Toxoplasma replication. A total of 94 compounds blocked parasite replication with 50% inhibitory concentrations of less than 5 µM. A significant number of these compounds are established inhibitors of dopamine or estrogen signaling. Follow-up experiments with the dopamine receptor inhibitor pimozide revealed that the drug impacted both parasite invasion and replication but did so independently of inhibition of dopamine or other neurotransmitter receptor signaling. Tamoxifen, which is an established inhibitor of the estrogen receptor, also reduced parasite invasion and replication. Even though Toxoplasma can activate the estrogen receptor, tamoxifen inhibits parasite growth independently of this transcription factor. Tamoxifen is also a potent inducer of autophagy, and we find that the drug stimulates recruitment of the autophagy marker light chain 3-green fluorescent protein onto the membrane of the vacuolar compartment in which the parasite resides and replicates. In contrast to other antiparasitic drugs, including pimozide, tamoxifen treatment of infected cells leads to a time-dependent elimination of intracellular parasites. Taken together, these data suggest that tamoxifen restricts Toxoplasma growth by inducing xenophagy or autophagic destruction of this obligate intracellular parasite. IMPORTANCE There is an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat microbial infections, and the repurposing of well-characterized compounds is emerging as one approach to achieving this goal. Using the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, we screened a library of 1,120 compounds and identified several compounds with significant antiparasitic activities. Among these were pimozide and tamoxifen, which are well-characterized drugs prescribed to treat patients with psychiatric disorders and breast cancer, respectively. The mechanisms by which these compounds target these disorders are known, but we show here that these drugs kill Toxoplasma through novel pathways, highlighting the potential utility of off-target effects in the treatment of infectious diseases.
apicomplexan parasites; drug screens; host-cell interactions; intracellular pathogens; pharmacology
Toxoplasma gondii uses unique secretory organelles called rhoptries to inject an array of effector proteins into the host cytoplasm that hijack host cell functions. We have discovered a novel rhoptry pseudokinase effector, ROP54, which is injected into the host cell upon invasion and traffics to the cytoplasmic face of the parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM). Disruption of ROP54 in a type II strain of T. gondii does not affect growth in vitro but results in a 100-fold decrease in virulence in vivo, suggesting that ROP54 modulates some aspect of the host immune response. We show that parasites lacking ROP54 are more susceptible to macrophage-dependent clearance, further suggesting that ROP54 is involved in evasion of innate immunity. To determine how ROP54 modulates parasite virulence, we examined the loading of two known innate immune effectors, immunity-related GTPase b6 (IRGb6) and guanylate binding protein 2 (GBP2), in wild-type and ∆rop54II mutant parasites. While no difference in IRGb6 loading was seen, we observed a substantial increase in GBP2 loading on the parasitophorous vacuole (PV) of ROP54-disrupted parasites. These results demonstrate that ROP54 is a novel rhoptry effector protein that promotes Toxoplasma infections by modulating GBP2 loading onto parasite-containing vacuoles. IMPORTANCE The interactions between intracellular microbes and their host cells can lead to the discovery of novel drug targets. During Toxoplasma infections, host cells express an array of immunity-related GTPases (IRGs) and guanylate binding proteins (GBPs) that load onto the parasite-containing vacuole to clear the parasite. To counter this mechanism, the parasite secretes effector proteins that traffic to the vacuole to disarm the immunity-related loading proteins and evade the immune response. While the interplay between host IRGs and Toxoplasma effector proteins is well understood, little is known about how Toxoplasma neutralizes the GBP response. We describe here a T. gondii pseudokinase effector, ROP54, that localizes to the vacuole upon invasion and is critical for parasite virulence. Toxoplasma vacuoles lacking ROP54 display an increased loading of the host immune factor GBP2, but not IRGb6, indicating that ROP54 plays a distinct role in immune evasion.
Toxoplasma gondii is a widespread protozoan parasite that causes potentially life-threatening opportunistic disease. New inhibitors of parasite replication are urgently needed, as the current antifolate treatment is also toxic to patients. Microtubules are essential cytoskeletal components that have been selectively targeted in microbial pathogens; further study of tubulin in Toxoplasma may reveal novel therapeutic opportunities. It has been noted that α-tubulin acetylation at lysine 40 (K40) is enriched during daughter parasite formation, but the impact of this modification on Toxoplasma division and the enzyme mediating its delivery have not been identified. We performed mutational analyses to provide evidence that K40 acetylation stabilizes Toxoplasma microtubules and is required for parasite replication. We also show that an unusual Toxoplasma homologue of α-tubulin acetyltransferase (TgATAT) is expressed in a cell cycle-regulated manner and that its expression peaks during division. Disruption of TgATAT with CRISPR/Cas9 ablates K40 acetylation and induces replication defects; parasites appear to initiate mitosis yet exhibit incomplete or improper nuclear division. Together, these findings establish the importance of tubulin acetylation, exposing a new vulnerability in Toxoplasma that could be pharmacologically targeted. IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma gondii is an opportunistic parasite that infects at least one-third of the world population. New treatments for the disease (toxoplasmosis) are needed since current drugs are toxic to patients. Microtubules are essential cellular structures built from tubulin that show promise as antimicrobial drug targets. Microtubules can be regulated by chemical modification, such as acetylation on lysine 40 (K40). To determine the role of K40 acetylation in Toxoplasma and whether it is a liability to the parasite, we performed mutational analyses of the α-tubulin gene. Our results indicate that parasites cannot survive without K40 acetylation unless microtubules are stabilized with a secondary mutation. Additionally, we identified the parasite enzyme that acetylates α-tubulin (TgATAT). Genetic disruption of TgATAT caused severe defects in parasite replication, further highlighting the importance of α-tubulin K40 acetylation in Toxoplasma and its promise as a potential new drug target.
Toxoplasma gondii and its Plasmodium kin share a well-conserved invasion process, including sequential secretion of adhesive molecules for host cell attachment and invasion. However, only a few orthologs have been shown to be important for efficient invasion by both genera. Bioinformatic screening to uncover potential new players in invasion identified a previously unrecognized T. gondii ortholog of Plasmodium glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored micronemal antigen (TgGAMA). We show that TgGAMA localizes to the micronemes and is processed into several proteolytic products within the parasite prior to secretion onto the parasite surface during invasion. TgGAMA from parasite lysate bound to several different host cell types in vitro, suggesting a role in parasite attachment. Consistent with this function, tetracycline-regulatable TgGAMA and TgGAMA knockout strains showed significant reductions in host cell invasion at the attachment step, with no defects in any of the other stages of the parasite lytic cycle. Together, the results of this work reveal a new conserved component of the adhesive repertoire of apicomplexan parasites. IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma gondii is a successful human pathogen in the same phylum as malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites. Invasion of a host cell is an essential process that begins with secretion of adhesive proteins onto the parasite surface for attachment and subsequent penetration of the host cell. Conserved invasion proteins likely play roles that were maintained through the divergence of these parasites. Here, we identify a new conserved invasion protein called glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored micronemal antigen (GAMA). Tachyzoites lacking TgGAMA were partially impaired in parasite attachment and invasion of host cells, yielding the first genetic evidence of a specific role in parasite entry into host cells. These findings widen our appreciation of the repertoire of conserved proteins that apicomplexan parasites employ for cell invasion.
The immune privileged nature of the CNS can make it vulnerable to chronic and latent infections. Little is known about the effects of lifelong brain infections, and thus inflammation, on the neurological health of the host. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can infect any mammalian nucleated cell with average worldwide seroprevalence rates of 30%. Infection by Toxoplasma is characterized by the lifelong presence of parasitic cysts within neurons in the brain, requiring a competent immune system to prevent parasite reactivation and encephalitis. In the immunocompetent individual, Toxoplasma infection is largely asymptomatic, however many recent studies suggest a strong correlation with certain neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. Here, we demonstrate a significant reduction in the primary astrocytic glutamate transporter, GLT-1, following infection with Toxoplasma. Using microdialysis of the murine frontal cortex over the course of infection, a significant increase in extracellular concentrations of glutamate is observed. Consistent with glutamate dysregulation, analysis of neurons reveal changes in morphology including a reduction in dendritic spines, VGlut1 and NeuN immunoreactivity. Furthermore, behavioral testing and EEG recordings point to significant changes in neuronal output. Finally, these changes in neuronal connectivity are dependent on infection-induced downregulation of GLT-1 as treatment with the ß-lactam antibiotic ceftriaxone, rescues extracellular glutamate concentrations, neuronal pathology and function. Altogether, these data demonstrate that following an infection with T. gondii, the delicate regulation of glutamate by astrocytes is disrupted and accounts for a range of deficits observed in chronic infection.
In recent years, due to the growing concern about recurrent epidemics by Toxoplasma gondii and other pathogens in Brazil, there has been an increase in the use of different preparations obtained from Echinacea purpurea in order to test their effectiveness against these infections. Although studies have suggested the beneficial effects of this species against the influenza virus, no data are available on the use of E. purpurea aqueous extract in T. gondii infections. Thus, the aim of this study was to analyze the effect of its administration in Swiss mice submitted to acute and prolonged infection with different T. gondii strains. This study showed that E. purpurea extract induced a significant reduction in the number of tachyzoites in the peritoneal fluid and liver imprints from mice infected by the RH strain. Moreover, prolonged treatment significantly increased the number of brain cysts of animals infected with ME 49 strain. The results obtained in this study suggest that the crude extract obtained from E. purpurea has important protective activities against infection with different T. gondii strains.
The zoonotic agent Toxoplasma gondii is distributed world-wide, and can infect a broad range of hosts including humans. Microneme protein 16 of T. gondii (TgMIC16) is responsible for binding to aldolase, and is associated with rhomboid cleavage and presence of trafficking signals during invasion. However, little is known of the TgMIC16 sequence diversity among T. gondii isolates from different hosts and geographical locations.
In this study, we examined sequence variation in MIC16 gene among T. gondii isolates from different hosts and geographical regions. The entire genomic region of the MIC16 gene was amplified and sequenced, and phylogenetic relationship was reconstructed using Bayesian inference (BI) and maximum parsimony (MP) based on the MIC16 gene sequences. The results of sequence alignments showed two lengths of the sequence of MIC16 gene among all the examined 12 T. gondii strains: 4391 bp for strains TgCatBr5 and MAS, and 4394 bp for strains RH, TgPLH, GT1, PRU, QHO, PTG, PYS, GJS, CTG and TgToucan. Their A+T content ranged from 50.30 to 50.59 %. A total of 107 variable nucleotide positions (0.1-0.9 %) were identified, including 29 variations in 10 exons and 78 variations in 9 introns. Phylogenetic analysis of MIC16 sequences showed that typical genotypes (Type I, II and III) were able to be grouped into their respective genotypes. Moreover, the three major clonal lineages (Type I, II and III) can be differentiated by PCR-RFLP using restriction enzyme Pst I.
Phylogenetic analysis and PCR-RFLP of the MIC16 locus among T. gondii isolates from different hosts and geographical regions allowed the differentiation of three major clonal lineages (Type I, II and III) into their respective genotypes, suggesting that MIC16 gene may provide a novel potential genetic marker for population genetic studies of T. gondii isolates.
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular apicomplexan parasite that infects warm-blooded vertebrates, including humans. Asexual reproduction in T. gondii allows it to switch between the rapidly replicating tachyzoite and quiescent bradyzoite life cycle stages. A transient cyclic AMP (cAMP) pulse promotes bradyzoite differentiation, whereas a prolonged elevation of cAMP inhibits this process. We investigated the mechanism(s) by which differential modulation of cAMP exerts a bidirectional effect on parasite differentiation. There are three protein kinase A (PKA) catalytic subunits (TgPKAc1 to -3) expressed in T. gondii Unlike TgPKAc1 and TgPKAc2, which are conserved in the phylum Apicomplexa, TgPKAc3 appears evolutionarily divergent and specific to coccidian parasites. TgPKAc1 and TgPKAc2 are distributed in the cytomembranes, whereas TgPKAc3 resides in the cytosol. TgPKAc3 was genetically ablated in a type II cyst-forming strain of T. gondii (PruΔku80Δhxgprt) and in a type I strain (RHΔku80Δhxgprt), which typically does not form cysts. The Δpkac3 mutant exhibited slower growth than the parental and complemented strains, which correlated with a higher basal rate of tachyzoite-to-bradyzoite differentiation. 3-Isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX) treatment, which elevates cAMP levels, maintained wild-type parasites as tachyzoites under bradyzoite induction culture conditions (pH 8.2/low CO2), whereas the Δpkac3 mutant failed to respond to the treatment. This suggests that TgPKAc3 is the factor responsible for the cAMP-dependent tachyzoite maintenance. In addition, the Δpkac3 mutant had a defect in the production of brain cysts in vivo, suggesting that a substrate of TgPKAc3 is probably involved in the persistence of this parasite in the intermediate host animals.
Toxoplasma gondii is responsible for causing toxoplasmosis, one of the most prevalent zoonotic parasitoses worldwide. The mechanisms that mediate T. gondii infection of pigs (the most common source of human infection) and renal tissues are still unknown. To identify the critical alterations that take place in the transcriptome of both porcine kidney (PK-15) cells and T. gondii following infection, infected cell samples were collected at 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 h post infection and RNA-Seq data were acquired using Illumina Deep Sequencing. Differential Expression of Genes (DEGs) analysis was performed to study the concomitant gene-specific temporal patterns of induction of mRNA expression of PK-15 cells and T. gondii. High sequence coverage enabled us to thoroughly characterize T. gondii transcriptome and identify the activated molecular pathways in host cells. More than 6G clean bases/sample, including >40 million clean reads were obtained. These were aligned to the reference genome of T. gondii and wild boar (Sus scrofa). DEGs involved in metabolic activities of T. gondii showed time-dependent down-regulation. However, DEGs involved in immune or disease related pathways of PK-15 cells peaked at 6 h PI, and were highly enriched as evidenced by KEGG analysis. Protein-protein interaction analysis revealed that TGME49_120110 (PCNA), TGME49_049180 (DHFR-TS), TGME49_055320, and TGME49_002300 (ITPase) are the four hub genes with most interactions with T. gondii at the onset of infection. These results reveal altered profiles of gene expressed by PK-15 cells and T. gondii during infection and provide the groundwork for future virulence studies to uncover the mechanisms of T. gondii interaction with porcine renal tissue by functional analysis of these DEGs.
Host cell microdomains are involved in the attachment, entry, and replication of intracellular microbial pathogens. Entry into the host cell of Toxoplasma gondii and the subsequent survival of this protozoan parasite are tightly coupled with the proteins secreted from organelle called rhoptry. The rhoptry proteins are rapidly discharged into clusters of vesicles, called evacuoles, which are then delivered to parasitophorous vacuoles (PVs) or nucleus. In this study, we examined the roles of two host cell microdomain components, cholesterol and glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI), in evacuole formation. The acute depletion of cholesterol from the host cell plasma membrane blocked evacuole formation but not invasion. Whereas the lack of host cell GPI also altered evacuole formation but not invasion, instead inducing excess evacuole formation. The latter effect was not influenced by the evacuole-inhibiting effects of host cell cholesterol depletion, indicating the independent roles of host GPI and cholesterol in evacuole formation. In addition, the excess formation of evacuoles resulted in the enhanced recruitment of host mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum to PVs, which in turn stimulated the growth of the parasite.