Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that persists as a chronic infection. Toxoplasma evades immunity by forming tissue cysts, which reactivate to cause life-threatening disease during immune suppression. There is an urgent need to identify drugs capable of targeting these latent tissue cysts, which tend to form in the brain. We have previously shown that translational control is critical during both replicative and latent forms of Toxoplasma. Here we report that guanabenz, an FDA-approved drug that interferes with translational control, has anti-parasitic activity against replicative stages of Toxoplasma and the related apicomplexan parasite, Plasmodium falciparum (malaria). We also found that inhibition of translational control interfered with tissue cyst biology in vitro. Toxoplasma bradyzoites present in these abnormal cysts were diminished and misconfigured, surrounded by empty space not seen in normal cysts. These findings prompted analysis of the efficacy of guanabenz in vivo using established mouse models for acute and chronic toxoplasmosis. In addition to protecting mice from lethal doses of Toxoplasma, guanabenz has a remarkable ability to reduce the number of brain cysts in chronically infected mice. Our findings suggest that guanabenz can be repurposed into an effective anti-parasitic with a unique ability to reduce tissue cysts in the brain.
Infection by the neurotropic agent Toxoplasma gondii alters rodent behavior and can result in neuropsychiatric symptoms in humans. Little is understood regarding the effects of infection on host neural processes but alterations to dopaminergic neurotransmission are implicated. We have previously reported elevated levels of dopamine in infected dopaminergic cells however the involvement of the host enzymes and fate of the produced dopamine were not defined. In order to clarify the effects of infection on host dopamine biosynthetic enzymes and dopamine packaging we examined enzyme levels and activity and dopamine accumulation and release in T. gondii infected neurosecretory cells. Although the levels of the host tyrosine hydroxylase and DOPA decarboxylase did not change significantly in infected cultures, DOPA decarboxylase was found within the parasitophorous vacuole, the vacuolar compartment where the parasites reside, as well as in the host cytosol in infected dopaminergic cells. Strikingly, DOPA decarboxylase was found within the intracellular parasite cysts in infected brain tissue. This finding could provide some explanation for observations of dopamine within tissue cysts in infected brain as a parasite-encoded enzyme with tyrosine hydroxylase activity was also localized within tissue cysts. In contrast, cellular dopamine packaging appeared unchanged in single-cell microamperometry experiments and only a fraction of the increased dopamine was accessible to high potassium-induced release. This study provides some understanding of how this parasite produces elevated dopamine within dopaminergic cells without the toxic ramifications of free cytosolic dopamine. The mechanism for synthesis and packaging of dopamine by T. gondii infected dopaminergic cells may have important implications for the effects of chronic T. gondii infection on humans and animals.
Felines, the only definitive hosts that shed the environmentally-durable oocysts, are the key in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii to all warm-blooded animals. They seroconvert as late as the third week and begin to shed oocysts as early as 3-8 days after being fed tissue cysts. Early detection of Toxoplasma-infected cats is crucial to evaluate Toxoplasma-contaminated environment and potential risks to public health. Moreover, it is fundamental for Toxoplasma infection control. Interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) is a blood-based test assessing the presence of IFN-γ released by the T-lymphocytes directed against specific antigens, which is an ideal assay for early detection of Toxoplasma-infected cats. Here, cats were orally infected with the tissue cysts and blood was collected for toxoplasmic antigen stimulation, and the released IFN-γ was measured by ELISA. Results showed that Toxoplasma-infection was detected by IGRA as early as 4 days post-infection (dpi); while serum Toxoplasma IgM and IgG were detected by ELISA at 10 dpi and 14 dpi, respectively. Our findings demonstrated that IGRA-positive and ELISA-negative samples revealed an early Toxoplasma infection in cats, indicating a new strategy for the early diagnosis of Toxoplasma infection by combining IGRA and ELISA. Therefore, IGRA could emerge as a reliable diagnostic tool for the exploration of cat toxoplasmosis prevalence and its potential risks to public health.
Calcium-dependent protein kinases (CDPKs) comprise the major group of Ca2+-regulated kinases in plants and protists. It has long been assumed that CDPKs are activated, like other Ca2+-regulated kinases, by derepression of the kinase domain (KD). However, we found that removal of the autoinhibitory domain from Toxoplasma gondii CDPK1 is not sufficient for kinase activation. From a library of heavy chain-only antibody fragments (VHHs), we isolated an antibody (1B7) that binds TgCDPK1 in a conformation-dependent manner and potently inhibits it. We uncovered the molecular basis for this inhibition by solving the crystal structure of the complex and simulating, through molecular dynamics, the effects of 1B7-kinase interactions. In contrast to other Ca2+-regulated kinases, the regulatory domain of TgCDPK1 plays a dual role, inhibiting or activating the kinase in response to changes in Ca2+ concentrations. We propose that the regulatory domain of TgCDPK1 acts as a molecular splint to stabilize the otherwise inactive KD. This dependence on allosteric stabilization reveals a novel susceptibility in this important class of parasite enzymes.
VHH; calcium-dependent protein kinase; kinase activation
Toxoplasma gondii has evolved a number of strategies to evade immune responses in its many hosts. Previous genetic mapping of crosses between clonal type 1, 2, and 3 strains of T. gondii, which are prevalent in Europe and North America, identified two rhoptry proteins, ROP5 and ROP18, that function together to block innate immune mechanisms activated by interferon gamma (IFNg) in murine hosts. However, the contribution of these and other virulence factors in more genetically divergent South American strains is unknown. Here we utilized a cross between the intermediately virulent North American type 2 ME49 strain and the highly virulent South American type 10 VAND strain to map the genetic basis for differences in virulence in the mouse. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of this new cross identified one peak that spanned the ROP5 locus on chromosome XII. CRISPR-Cas9 mediated deletion of all copies of ROP5 in the VAND strain rendered it avirulent and complementation confirmed that ROP5 is the major virulence factor accounting for differences between type 2 and type 10 strains. To extend these observations to other virulent South American strains representing distinct genetic populations, we knocked out ROP5 in type 8 TgCtBr5 and type 4 TgCtBr18 strains, resulting in complete loss of virulence in both backgrounds. Consistent with this, polymorphisms that show strong signatures of positive selection in ROP5 were shown to correspond to regions known to interface with host immunity factors. Because ROP5 and ROP18 function together to resist innate immune mechanisms, and a significant interaction between them was identified in a two-locus scan, we also assessed the role of ROP18 in the virulence of South American strains. Deletion of ROP18 in South American type 4, 8, and 10 strains resulted in complete attenuation in contrast to a partial loss of virulence seen for ROP18 knockouts in previously described type 1 parasites. These data show that ROP5 and ROP18 are conserved virulence factors in genetically diverse strains from North and South America, suggesting they evolved to resist innate immune defenses in ancestral T. gondii strains, and they have subsequently diversified under positive selection.
A total synthesis of the cyanobacterial natural product nostodione A is reported involving a convergent, diversity-oriented route, enabling the assembly of a mini-library of structural analogues. The first single crystal X-ray structural determination on a member of this series is reported along with SAR studies identifying potent inhibitors of invasion and replication of the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii.
The function of mucosal dendritic cell (DC) subsets in immunity and inflammation is not well understood. In this study, we define four DC subsets present within the lamina propria and mesenteric lymph node compartments based on expression of CD103 and CD11b. Using IL-12p40 YFP (Yet40) reporter mice, we show that CD103+CD11b-mucosal DCs are primary in vivo sources of IL-12p40; we also identified CD103-CD11b-mucosal DCs as a novel population producing this cytokine. Infection was preferentially found in CD11b+DCs that were negative for CD103. Lamina propria DCs containing parasites were negative for IL-12p40. Instead, production of the cytokine was strictly a property of noninfected cells. We also show that vitamin A metabolism, as measured by ALDH activity, was preferentially found in CD103+CD11b+DC and was strongly downregulated in all mucosal DC subsets during infection. Finally, overall apoptosis of lamina propria DC subsets was increased during infection. Combined, these results highlight the ability of intestinalToxoplasmainfection to alter mucosal DC activity at both the whole population level and at the level of individual subsets.
Searching for new effective drugs against human and animal toxoplasmosis we decided to test the anti-Toxoplasma potential of phytoecdysteroids (α-ecdysone and 20-hydroxyecdysone) characterized by the pleiotropic activity on mammalian organisms including the enhancement of host's anti-parasitic defence. This objective was accomplished by the in vitro evaluation of T. gondii growth in phytoecdysteroid-treated immunocompetent cells of selected hosts: humans and two strains of inbred mice with genetically determined different susceptibility to toxoplasmosis.
Peripheral mononuclear blood cells were isolated from Toxoplasma-positive and Toxoplasma-negative women (N = 43) and men (N = 21). Non-infected mice (C57BL/6, N = 10 and BALB/c, N = 14) and mice (BALB/c, N = 10) challenged intraperitoneally with 5 tissue cysts of the T. gondii DX strain were also used in this study as a source of splenocytes. The effects of phytoecdysteroids on the viability of human PBMC and mouse splenocytes were evaluated using the MTT assay. The influence of phytoecdysteroids on PBMCs, splenocytes and T. gondii proliferation was measured using radioactivity tests (the level of 3[H] uracil incorporation by toxoplasms or 3[H] thymidine by PBMCs and splenocytes), which was confirmed by quantitative Real-Time PCR. Statistical analysis was performed using SigmaStat 3.5 (Systat Software GmbH). The best-fit IC50 curves were plotted using GraphPad Prism 6.0 (GraphPad Software, Inc.).
Our results showed that phytoecdysteroids promote the multiplication of Toxoplasma in cultures of human or murine immune cells, in contrast to another apicomplexan parasite, Babesia gibsoni. Additionally, the tested phytoecdysteroids did not stimulate the in vitro secretion of the essential protective cytokines (IFN-γ, IL-2 and IL-10), neither by human nor by murine immune cells involved in an effective intracellular killing of the parasite.
Judging by the effect of phytoecdysteroids on the T. gondii proliferation, demonstrated for the first time in this study, it seems that these compounds should not be taken into consideration as potential medications to treat toxoplasmosis. Phytoecdysteroids included in the food are most likely not harmful for human or animal health but certain nutrients containing ecdysteroids at high concentrations could promote T. gondii proliferation in chronically infected and immunocompromised individuals. In order to assess the real impact of ecdysteroids on the course of natural T. gondii invasion, in vivo research should be undertaken because it cannot be ruled out that the in vivo effect will be different than the in vitro one. However, taking into account the possible stimulating effect of ecdysteroids on some opportunistic parasites (such as Toxoplasma or Strongyloides) further studies are necessary and should focus on the mechanisms of their action, which directly or indirectly enhance the parasite growth. Since ecdysteroids are considered as potential drugs, it is essential to determine their effect on various parasitic pathogens, which may infect the host at the same time, especially in immunocompromised individuals.
The expression of gluconeogenic enzymes is typically repressed when glucose is available. The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii utilizes host glucose to sustain high rates of intracellular replication. However, despite their preferential utilization of glucose, intracellular parasites constitutively express two isoforms of the gluconeogenic enzyme fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase (TgFBP1 and TgFBP2). The rationale for constitutive expression of FBPases in T. gondii remains unclear. We find that conditional knockdown of TgFBP2 results in complete loss of intracellular growth in vitro under glucose-replete conditions and loss of acute virulence in mice. TgFBP2 deficiency was rescued by expression of catalytically active FBPase and was associated with altered glycolytic and mitochondrial TCA cycle fluxes, as well as dysregulation of glycolipid, amylopectin, and fatty acid biosynthesis. Futile cycling between gluconeogenic and glycolytic enzymes may constitute a regulatory mechanism that allows T. gondii to rapidly adapt to changes in nutrient availability in different host cells.
Toxoplasma gondii and Plasmodium species are obligatory intracellular parasites that export proteins into in the infected cells in order to interfere with host-signaling pathways, acquire nutrients or evade host defense mechanisms. With regard to export mechanism, a wealth of information in Plasmodium spp. is available, while the mechanisms operating in T. gondii remain uncertain. The recent discovery of exported proteins in T. gondii, mainly represented by dense granule resident proteins, might explain this discrepancy and offers a unique opportunity to study the export mechanism in T. gondii. Here, we report that GRA16 export is mediated by two protein elements present in its N-terminal region. Because the first element contains a putative PEXEL linear motif (RRLAE), we hypothesized that GRA16 export depended on a maturation process involving protein cleavage. Using both N- and C-terminal epitope tags, we provide evidence for protein proteolysis occurring in the N-terminus of GRA16. We show that TgASP5, the T. gondii homolog of Plasmodium Plasmepsin V, is essential for GRA16 export and is directly responsible for its maturation in a PEXEL-dependent manner. Interestingly, TgASP5 is also involved in GRA24 export, though the GRA24 maturation mechanism is TgASP5-independent. Our data reveal different modus operandi for protein export, in which TgASP5 should play multiple functions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Apicomplexa; microbial-cell interaction; protein export; protein trafficking
Egress is a vital step in the life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii which attracts attentions of many groups. Previous studies have shown that exogenous nitric oxide (NO) stimulates the early egress of T. gondii from infected peritoneal macrophages, a kind of immune cells. However, because Toxoplasma forms cysts in brain and muscle tissues, the development of autonomous immunity in non-immune cells is vital for limiting parasite burden and cyst formation. Therefore, we attempted to investigate whether exogenous NO could induce the early egress of T. gondii from infected non-immune cells.
T. gondii tachyzoites were cultured in human foreskin fibroblast (HFF) cells and were then treated with NO released by sodium nitroferricyanide (III) dihydrate (SNP). The egressed parasites were analysed by flow cytometry.
The results showed that NO induced the early egress of parasites from HFF cells before completing their intracellular life cycles. We also found that the occurrence of egress was dependent on intracellular calcium (Ca(2+)) levels and the mobility of the parasite. Compared with freshly isolated tachyzoites, the developmental ability and virulence of egressed tachyzoites presented no difference.
Taken together, our findings demonstrate a novel assay for the analysis of egress signalling mechanisms and an avenue of parasite clearance by hosts of T. gondii.
The purpose of this investigation was the determination of the distribution of genotypes at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and the toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) in fetuses and newborns congenitally infected with Toxoplasma gondii and the identification of genetic changes predisposing to infection development. The study involved 20 fetuses and newborns with congenital toxoplasmosis and 50 uninfected controls. The levels of IgG and IgM antibodies against T. gondii, as well as IgG avidity, were estimated by enzyme-linked fluorescent assay (ELFA) tests. T. gondii DNA loads in amniotic fluids were assayed by the real-time (RT) quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q PCR) technique for parasitic B1 gene. TLR4 and TLR9 SNPs were identified using a self-designed multiplex nested PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) assay. Randomly selected genotypes at SNPs were confirmed by sequencing. All the genotypes were tested for Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and TLR4 genotypes were analyzed for linkage disequilibrium. A correlation was studied between the genotypes or haplotypes and the development of congenital toxoplasmosis using a logistic regression model. Single SNP analysis showed no statistically significant differences in the distribution of distinct genotypes at the analyzed TLR4 and TLR9 SNPs between T. gondii-infected fetuses and newborns and the controls. Taking into account the prevalence of alleles residing within polymorphic sites, similar prevalence rates were observed in both of the studied groups. The multiple SNP analysis indicated GTG variants at the TLR4 and TLR9 SNPs to be significantly less frequent in offspring with congenital toxoplasmosis than in uninfected offspring (p ≤ 0.0001). TLR4 and TLR9 SNPs seem to be involved in protection against congenital toxoplasmosis.
A relationship between latent toxoplasmosis and the immune system during HIV disease is poorly understood. Therefore, the aim of this follow-up study was to characterize immunological parameters in HIV-infected patients with latent toxoplasmosis and noninfected individuals. A total of 101 HIV-infected patients were enrolled in the study. The patients were classified into two groups based on anti-Toxoplasma gondii antibodies: a group of 55 toxoplasma-positive persons (TP) and a group of 46 toxoplasma-negative persons (TN). Absolute counts of several lymphocyte subsets decreased in the TP group, namely, T cells (p = 0.007), B cells (p = 0.002), NK cells (p = 0.009), CD4 T cells (p = 0.028), and CD8 T cells (p = 0.004). On the other hand, the percentage of CD8 T cells expressing CD38 and HLA-DR significantly increased during the follow-up in the TP group (p = 0.003, p = 0.042, resp.) as well as the intensity of CD38 and HLA-DR expression (MFI) on CD8 T cells (p = 0.001, p = 0.057, resp.). In the TN group, analysis of the kinetics of immunological parameters revealed no significant changes over time. In conclusion, the results suggest that latent T. gondii infection modulates the immune response during HIV infection.
In mice, avirulent strains (e.g. types II and III) of the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii are restricted by the immunity-related GTPase (IRG) resistance system. Loading of IRG proteins onto the PVM is required for vacuolar rupture resulting in parasite clearance. In virulent strain (e.g. type I) infections polymorphic effector proteins ROP5 and ROP18 cooperate to phosphorylate and thereby inactivate mouse IRG proteins to preserve PVM integrity. In this study we confirmed the dense granule protein GRA7 as an additional component of the ROP5/ROP18 kinase complex and identified GRA7 association with the PVM by direct binding to ROP5. The absence of GRA7 results in reduced phosphorylation of Irga6 correlated with increased vacuolar IRG protein amounts and attenuated virulence. Earlier work identified additional IRG proteins as targets of T. gondii ROP18 kinase. We show that the only specific target of ROP18 among IRG proteins is in fact Irga6. Similarily, we demonstrate that GRA7 is strictly an Irga6-specific virulence effector. This identifies T. gondii GRA7 as a regulator for ROP18-specific inactivation of Irga6. The structural diversity of the IRG proteins implies that certain family members constitute additional specific targets for other yet unknown T. gondii virulence effectors. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
We here report on the in vitro effects of the bumped kinase inhibitor 1294 (BKI-1294) in cultures of the virulent Neospora caninum isolates Nc-Liverpool (Nc-Liv) and Nc-Spain7 and in two strains of Toxoplasma gondii (RH and ME49), all grown in human foreskin fibroblasts. In these parasites BKI-1294 acted with IC50s ranging from 20 nM (T. gondii RH) to 360 nM (N. caninum Nc-Liv), and exposure of intracellular stages to 1294 lead to non-disjunction of newly formed tachyzoites, resulting in the formation of multinucleated complexes similar to complexes earlier observed in BKI-1294-treated N. caninum beta-galactosidase-expressing parasites. However, such complexes were not seen in a transgenic T. gondii strain that expressed CDPK1 harboring a mutation (G-M) in the gatekeeper residue. In T. gondii ME49 and N. caninum Nc-Liv, exposure of cultures to BKI-1294 resulted in elevated expression of mRNA coding for the bradyzoite marker BAG1. Unlike in bradyzoites, SAG1 expression was not repressed. Immunofluorescence also showed that these multinucleated complexes expressed SAG1 and BAG1, and the monoclonal antibody CC2, which binds to a yet unidentified bradyzoite antigen, also exhibited increased labeling. In a pregnant mouse model, the BKI-1294 efficiently inhibited vertical transmission in Balb/c mice experimentally infected with the two virulent isolates Nc-Liv or Nc-Spain7, demonstrating proof-of-concept that this compound protected offspring from vertical transmission and disease. The observed deregulated antigen expression effect may enhance the immune response during BKI-1294 therapy and will be subject of future studies.