Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Genetic Screen to Isolate Toxoplasma gondii Host-cell Egress Mutants

J Vis Exp. 2012 Feb 8;(60). pii: 3807. doi: 10.3791/3807.

A Genetic Screen to Isolate Toxoplasma gondii Host-cell Egress Mutants.

Coleman BI, Gubbels MJ.

Department of Biology, Boston College.

The widespread, obligate intracellular, protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii causes opportunistic disease in immuno-compromised patients and causes birth defects upon congenital infection. The lytic replication cycle is characterized by three stages: 1. active invasion of a nucleated host cell; 2. replication inside the host cell; 3. active egress from the host cell. The mechanism of egress is increasingly being appreciated as a unique, highly regulated process, which is still poorly understood at the molecular level. The signaling pathways underlying egress have been characterized through the use of pharmacological agents acting on different aspects of the pathways(1-5). As such, several independent triggers of egress have been identified which all converge on the release of intracellular Ca(2+), a signal that is also critical for host cell invasion(6-8). This insight informed a candidate gene approach which led to the identification of plant like calcium dependent protein kinase (CDPK) involved in egress(9). In addition, several recent breakthroughs in understanding egress have been made using (chemical) genetic approaches(10-12). To combine the wealth of pharmacological information with the increasing genetic accessibility of Toxoplasma we recently established a screen permitting the enrichment for parasite mutants with a defect in host cell egress(13). Although chemical mutagenesis using N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) or ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) has been used for decades in the study of Toxoplasma biology(11,14,15), only recently has genetic mapping of mutations underlying the phenotypes become routine(16-18). Furthermore, by generating temperature-sensitive mutants, essential processes can be dissected and the underlying genes directly identified. These mutants behave as wild-type under the permissive temperature (35 °C), but fail to proliferate at the restrictive temperature (40 °C) as a result of the mutation in question. Here we illustrate a new phenotypic screening method to isolate mutants with a temperature-sensitive egress phenotype(13). The challenge for egress screens is to separate egressed from non-egressed parasites, which is complicated by fast re-invasion and general stickiness of the parasites to host cells. A previously established egress screen was based on a cumbersome series of biotinylation steps to separate intracellular from extracellular parasites(11). This method also did not generate conditional mutants resulting in weak phenotypes. The method described here overcomes the strong attachment of egressing parasites by including a glycan competitor, dextran sulfate (DS), that prevents parasites from sticking to the host cell(19). Moreover, extracellular parasites are specifically killed off by pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC), which leaves intracellular parasites unharmed(20). Therefore, with a new phenotypic screen to specifically isolate parasite mutants with defects in induced egress, the power of genetics can now be fully deployed to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying host cell egress.

PMID: 22349295 [PubMed - in process]

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