Apicomplexan parasites are the causative agents of notorious human and animal diseases that give rise to considerable human suffering and economic losses worldwide. The most prominent parasites of this phylum are the malaria-causing Plasmodium species, which are widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, and Toxoplasma gondii, which infects one third of the world's population. These parasites share a common form of gliding motility which relies on an actin-myosin motor. The components of this motor and the actin-regulatory proteins in Apicomplexa have unique features compared with all other eukaryotes. This, together with the crucial roles of these proteins, makes them attractive targets for structure-based drug design. In recent years, several structures of glideosome components, in particular of actins and actin regulators from apicomplexan parasites, have been determined, which will hopefully soon allow the creation of a complete molecular picture of the parasite actin-myosin motor and its regulatory machinery. Here, current knowledge of the function of this motor is reviewed from a structural perspective.
actin polymerization; cytoskeleton; drug design; gliding motility; malaria; parasitology; regulation