Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) regulate key signaling events in a variety of eukaryotic cells. Toxoplasma gondii, the causative agents of toxoplasmosis, possesses a p38α MAPK homologue, MAPK1, which is an important manipulator of host immunity and virulence in mice. In this work, we showed an increased transcript level of MAPK1 in T. gondii during bradyzoite differentiation induced by alkaline treatment and heat shock in vitro, suggesting that MAPK1 may be associated with bradyzoite differentiation. The biological roles of MAPK1 of T. gondii were investigated by construction of a MAPK1 deletion mutant (Δmapk1) and a complementation mutant with restored MAPK1 expression using a type I strain. Knockout of MAPK1 resulted in markedly defective bradyzoite differentiation, host-cell attachment and parasite replication in vitro, and the inability to cause lethal infection in a murine model of acute toxoplasmosis, with lower parasite burden in infected tissues, showing that MAPK1 is associated with the acute virulence of parasite in mice. Complementation of MAPK1-deficient parasites restored bradyzoite development, attachment, replication, and virulence. Our findings demonstrate that MAPK1 is involved in asexual development and growth of T. gondii.
Asexual development; Growth; Mitogen-activated protein kinase; Toxoplasma gondii