Toxoplasma gondii infection has previously been described to cause infected mice to lose their fear of cat urine. This behavioral manipulation has been proposed to involve alterations of host dopamine pathways due to parasite-encoded aromatic amino acid hydroxylases. Here, we report successful knockout and complementation of the aromatic amino acid hydroxylase AAH2 gene, with no observable phenotype in parasite growth or differentiation in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, expression levels of the two aromatic amino acid hydroxylases were negligible both in tachyzoites and in bradyzoites. Finally, we were unable to confirm previously described effects of parasite infection on host dopamine either in vitro or in vivo, even when AAH2 was over-expressed using the BAG1 promoter. Together, these data indicate that AAH enzymes in the parasite do not cause global or regional alterations of dopamine in the host brain, although they may locally affect this pathway. Additionally, our findings suggest alternative roles for the AHH enzymes in T. gondii since AAH1 is essential for growth in non-dopaminergic cells.
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate, intracellular parasite with a broad host range, including humans and rodents. In both humans and rodents, Toxoplasma establishes a lifelong persistent infection in the brain. While this brain infection is asymptomatic in most immunocompetent people, in the developing fetus or immunocompromised individuals such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients, this predilection for and persistence in the brain can lead to devastating neurologic disease. Thus, it is clear that the brain-Toxoplasma interaction is critical to the symptomatic disease produced by Toxoplasma, yet we have little understanding of the cellular or molecular interaction between cells of the central nervous system (CNS) and the parasite. In the mouse model of CNS toxoplasmosis it has been known for over 30 years that neurons are the cells in which the parasite persists, but little information is available about which part of the neuron is generally infected (soma, dendrite, axon) and if this cellular relationship changes between strains. In part, this lack is secondary to the difficulty of imaging and visualizing whole infected neurons from an animal. Such images would typically require serial sectioning and stitching of tissue imaged by electron microscopy or confocal microscopy after immunostaining. By combining several techniques, the method described here enables the use of thick sections (160 µm) to identify and image whole cells that contain cysts, allowing three-dimensional visualization and analysis of individual, chronically infected neurons without the need for immunostaining, electron microscopy, or serial sectioning and stitching. Using this technique, we can begin to understand the cellular relationship between the parasite and the infected neuron.
Toxoplasma gondii is a widespread protozoan parasite of animals that causes zoonotic disease in humans. Three clonal variants predominate in North America and Europe, while South American strains are genetically diverse, and undergo more frequent recombination. All three northern clonal variants share a monomorphic version of chromosome Ia (ChrIa), which is also found in unrelated, but successful southern lineages. Although this pattern could reflect a selective advantage, it might also arise from non-Mendelian segregation during meiosis. To understand the inheritance of ChrIa, we performed a genetic cross between the northern clonal type 2 ME49 strain and a divergent southern type 10 strain called VAND, which harbors a divergent ChrIa.
NextGen sequencing of haploid F1 progeny was used to generate a genetic map revealing a low level of conventional recombination, with an unexpectedly high frequency of short, double crossovers. Notably, both the monomorphic and divergent versions of ChrIa were isolated with equal frequency. As well, ChrIa showed no evidence of being a sex chromosome, of harboring an inversion, or distorting patterns of segregation. Although VAND was unable to self fertilize in the cat, it underwent successful out-crossing with ME49 and hybrid survival was strongly associated with inheritance of ChrIII from ME49 and ChrIb from VAND..
Our findings suggest that the successful spread of the monomorphic ChrIa in the wild has not been driven by meiotic drive or related processes, but rather is due to a fitness advantage. As well, the high frequency of short double crossovers is expected to greatly increase genetic diversity among progeny from genetic crosses, thereby providing an unexpected and likely important source of diversity.
The increased prevalence of allergies in developed countries has been attributed to a reduction of some infections. Supporting epidemiological studies, we previously showed that both acute and chronic Toxoplasma gondii infection can diminish allergic airway inflammation in BALB/c mice. The mechanisms involved when sensitization occurs during acute phase would be related to the strong Th1 response induced by the parasite. Here, we further investigated the mechanisms involved in T. gondii allergy protection in mice sensitized during acute T. gondii infection. Adoptive transference assays and ex vivo co-cultures experiments showed that not only thoracic lymph node cells from infected and sensitized mice but also from non-sensitized infected animals diminished both allergic lung inflammation and the proliferation of effector T cells from allergic mice. This ability was found to be contact-independent and correlated with high levels of CD4+FoxP3+ cells. IL-10 would not be involved in allergy suppression since IL-10-deficient mice behaved similar to wild type mice. Our results extend earlier work and show that, in addition to immune deviation, acute T. gondii infection can suppress allergic airway inflammation through immune suppression.
Toxoplasma gondii is a highly prevalent intracellular protozoan parasite that causes severe disease in congenitally infected or immunocompromised hosts. T. gondii is capable of invading immune cells and it has been suggested that the parasite harnesses the migratory pathways of these cells to spread through the body. Although in vitro evidence suggests that the parasite further enhances its spread by inducing a hypermotility phenotype in parasitized immune cells, in vivo evidence for this phenomenon is scarce. Here we use a physiologically relevant oral model of T. gondii infection, in conjunction with two-photon laser scanning microscopy, to address this issue. We found that a small proportion of natural killer (NK) cells in mesenteric lymph nodes contained parasites. Compared with uninfected 'bystander' NK cells, these infected NK cells showed faster, more directed and more persistent migratory behavior. Consistent with this, infected NK cells showed impaired spreading and clustering of the integrin, LFA-1, when exposed to plated ligands. Our results provide the first evidence for a hypermigratory phenotype in T. gondii-infected NK cells in vivo, providing an anatomical context for understanding how the parasite manipulates immune cell motility to spread through the host.Immunology and Cell Biology advance online publication, 23 December 2014; doi:10.1038/icb.2014.106.
BackgroundDNA gyrase, an enzyme once thought to be unique to bacteria, is also found in some eukaryotic plastids including the apicoplast of Apicomplexa such as Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii which are important disease-causing organisms. DNA gyrase is an excellent target for antibacterial drugs, yet such antibacterials seem ineffective against Apicomplexa. Characterisation of the apicoplast gyrases would be a useful step towards understanding why this should be so. While purification of active apicoplast gyrase has proved impossible to date, in silico analyses have allowed us to discover differences in the apicoplast proteins. The resulting predicted structural and functional differences will be a first step towards development of apicoplast-gyrase specific inhibitors.ResultsWe have carried out sequence analysis and structural predictions of the enzymes from the two species and find that P. falciparum gyrase lacks a GyrA box, but T. gondii may retain one. All proteins contained signal/transport peptides for localization to the apicoplast but T. gondii Gyrase B protein lacks the expected hydrophobic region. The most significant difference is in the GyrA C-terminal domain: While the cores of the proteins, including DNA binding and cleavage regions are essentially unchanged, both apicoplast gyrase A proteins have C-terminal domains that are significantly larger than bacterial counterparts and are predicted to have different structures.ConclusionThe apicoplast gyrases differ significantly from bacterial gyrases while retaining similar core domains. T. gondii Gyrase B may have an unusual or inefficient mechanism of localisation to the apicoplast. P.falciparum gyrase, lacks a GyrA box and is therefore likely to be inefficient in DNA supercoiling. The C-terminal domains of both apicoplast Gyrase A proteins diverge significantly from the bacterial proteins. We predict that an additional structural element is present in the C-terminal domain of both apicoplast Gyrase A proteins, including the possibility of a ß-pinwheel with a non-canonical number of blades. These differences undoubtedly will affect the DNA supercoiling mechanism and have perhaps evolved to compensate for the lack of Topoisomerase IV in the apicoplast. These data will be useful first step towards further characterisation of and development of inhibitors for apicoplast gyrases.
Toxoplasma gondii is recognized as an opportunistic human pathogen with a worldwide distribution. Development of effective vaccines is considered the only ideal way to control T. gondii infection. However, only one live vaccine is commercially available for use in sheep and goats. Therefore, the identification of more effective antigenic proteins is very important. In this study, we identified a novel putative calcium-dependent protein kinase of T. gondii, TgCDPK6, and further analyzed its potential antigenicity using a bioinformatic approach. The physical and chemical characteristics, transmembrane domain, epitopes, advanced structure, and functional sites of TgCDPK6 were predicted by multiple bioinformatic approaches. Twenty-six post-translational modification sites were identified in the protein. The secondary structure showed that 58.35% amino acids of TgCDPK6 are exposed to the solvent interface, and the high hydrophilic domains were distributed in amino acid positions 21-59, 68-81, 156-205, 245-271, 280-294, 297-324, 334-356, 367-393, 474-498, and 543-553. The advanced structure of TgCDPK6 was developed by a homology modeling method and was validated by PROCHECK, which showed that most amino acid residues were in the most favored regions. Using these analyses, 10 potential epitopes were predicted. The results indicated that TgCDPK6 could be a vaccine candidate antigen against T. gondii.
Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping studies have been integral in identifying and understanding virulence mechanisms in the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Here, we interrogate a different phenotype by mapping sinefungin (SNF) drug resistance in the genetic cross between type 2 ME49-FUDRR and type 10 VAND-SNFR. The genetic map of this cross was generated by whole-genome sequencing of the progeny and subsequent identification of SNPs inherited from the parents. Based on this high density genetic map, we were able to pin point the sinefungin resistance phenotype to one significant locus on chromosome IX. Within this locus, a single non-synonymous SNP (nsSNP) resulting in an early stop codon in the TGVAND_290860 gene was identified occurring only in the sinefungin resistant progeny. Using CRISPR/CAS9 we were able to confirm that targeted disruption of TGVAND_290860 renders parasites sinefungin resistant. Because disruption of the SNR1 gene confers resistance, we also show that it can be used as a negative selectable marker to insert either a positive drug selection cassette or a heterologous reporter. These data demonstrate the power of combining classical genetic mapping, whole genome sequencing, and CRISPR mediated gene disruption for combined forward and reverse genetic strategies in T. gondii.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are crucial genetic effectors partaking in numerous mechanisms of gene regulation in eukaryotic organisms. Recent discoveries of miRNA in Toxoplasma gondii, an intracellular obligate parasite of the phylum Apicomplexa, suggested possible roles of T. gondii miRNAs (Tg-miRNAs) in the post-transcriptional gene regulation and in the cell biology of the parasite. To gain a better understanding of the involvement of Tg-miRNAs in regulating the parasite gene expression, a dual luciferase reporter system was used in the examination and evaluation of the effects of endogenous Tg-miRNAs, their mimics and inhibitors. A Renilla luciferase (Rnluc) transcript was engineered to carry independent binding sites of two abundant species, namely Tg-miR-60a and Tg-miR-4a, so that the expression of Rnluc was silenced in a sequence specific manner by Tg-miR-60a and Tg-miR-4a. Notably, Tg-miR-60a, but not Tg-miR-4a, caused the levels of Rnluc transcripts to decrease. These findings strongly suggested that T. gondii employs the Tg-miRNA species-specific mode of silencing actions: transcript degradation by Tg-miR-60a, and translational suppression by Tg-miR-4a. Herein we developed a genetic system that exploits and directs the most abundant Tg-miR-60a for loss-of-function analyses in T. gondii. As a proof of principle, we showed that when the binding sites for Tg-miR-60a were introduced into the parasite transcripts via homologous recombination at the locus of (i) DEAD-box RNA helicase (TgHoDI), or (ii) lactate dehydrogenase isoform 1 (TgLDH1), the expression levels of the selected genes can be altered. It was thus proven that inherit Tg-miR-60a could be directed and used to assist in the loss-of-function analyses.
"Serrano" ham is a typical pork product from the Mediterranean area, highly valued for its flavour. To make Serrano ham, pork undergoes a salting and a subsequent fermentation process known as curing. Certain pigs used for meat production are an important source of Toxoplasma gondii infection in humans. We have developed a method for quantifying and assaying the viability of the T. gondii present in commercial Serrano ham samples. A magnetic capture method for the isolation of T. gondii DNA and a qRT-PCR were used to estimate the T. gondii burden in 475 commercial samples of "Serrano" ham in two presentation formats: ham pieces and sliced ham. The infectivity capacity of T. gondii in positive samples was assayed in mice. The global prevalence of T. gondii was 8.84%, ranging from 32.35% in one of the companies to 0% prevalence in three other companies. The infectivity assays revealed that only 4.84% of the positive samples were infective. To the best of our knowledge this is the first report focussing on the prevalence of T. gondii in commercial "Serrano" ham. The method described here could be useful for producers to guarantee the safety of their products.
Apicomplexa are obligate intracellular parasites that cause important diseases in humans and animals. Manipulating the pathogen genome is the most direct way to understand the functions of specific genes in parasite development and pathogenesis. In Toxoplasma gondii, nonhomologous recombination is typically highly favored over homologous recombination, a process required for precise gene targeting. Several approaches, including the use of targeting vectors that feature large flanks to drive site-specific recombination, have been developed to overcome this problem. We have generated a new large-insert repository of T. gondii genomic DNA that is arrayed and sequenced and covers 95% of all of the parasite's genes. Clones from this fosmid library are maintained at single copy, which provides a high level of stability and enhances our ability to modify the organism dramatically. We establish a robust recombineering pipeline and show that our fosmid clones can be easily converted into gene knockout constructs in a 4-day protocol that does not require plate-based cloning but can be performed in multiwell plates. We validated this approach to understand gene function in T. gondii and produced a conditional null mutant for a nucleolar protein belonging to the NOL1/NOP2/SUN family, and we show that this gene is essential for parasite growth. We also demonstrate a powerful complementation strategy in the context of chemical mutagenesis and whole-genome sequencing. This repository is an important new resource that will accelerate both forward and reverse genetic analysis of this important pathogen.
Oocysts of Toxoplasma gondii represent one of the most common environmental contaminants causing the zoonotic infection toxoplasmosis. The aim of the present study was to compare the Mini-FLOTAC device with traditional cell counting plates (Kova Slide) for the detection of T. gondii oocysts from feline feces. Two types of experiments were performed: (i) purified oocysts were counted in different dilutions and (ii) specific pathogen free T. gondii-negative cat feces was inoculated with numbers of purified oocysts and counting was performed directly from feces. Our analysis showed a thousand times higher sensitivity of Mini-FLOTAC (5 × 102 oocysts) compared to Kova Slide (5 × 105 oocysts). Also, when compared by McNemar's test, counting of the purified oocysts showed a higher sensitivity of Mini-FLOTAC compared to Kova Slide, for a dilution of 103 oocysts/ml Our results show that Mini-FLOTAC is more sensitive than traditional methods of T. gondii oocysts detection and quantification is more accurate. Furthermore, Mini-FLOTAC simplicity and cost effectiveness allow it to be used with light microscopes in any laboratory or field conditions. We therefore recommend its use for regular screening. Further studies are needed to validate Mini-FLOTAC for the detection of oocysts in soil and water samples in field conditions.
Detection; Kova slide; Mini-FLOTAC; Oocysts; Toxoplasma gondii
The only known redox system in the apicoplast, a plastid-like organelle of apicomplexan parasites, is ferredoxin and ferredoxin-associated reductase. Ferredoxin donates electrons to different enzymes, presumably including lipoate synthase (LipA), which is essential for fatty acid biosynthesis. We recombinantly expressed and characterized LipA from the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, generated LipA-specific antibodies and confirmed the apicoplast localization of LipA. Electron transfer from ferredoxin to LipA would require direct protein-protein interaction. Such a robust interaction between the two proteins was demonstrated in both yeast and bacterial two-hybrid systems. Taken together, our results provide strong evidence for a role of ferredoxin as an electron donor to LipA.