Toxoplasma gondii is an apicomplexan parasite that secretes a large number of protein kinases and pseudokinases from its rhoptry organelles. Although some rhoptry kinases (ROPKs) act as virulence factors, many remain uncharacterised. In this study, predicted ROPKs were assessed for bradyzoite expression then pritoritised for a reverse genetic analysis in the type II strain Pru that is amenable to targeted disruption. Using CRISPR/Cas9 we engineered C-terminally epitope tagged ROP21 and ROP27 and demonstrated their localization to the PV and cyst matrix. ROP21 and ROP27 were not secreted from microneme, rhoptry, or dense granule organelles, but rather were located in small vesicles consistent with a constitutive pathway. Using CRISPR/Cas9, the genes for ROP21, ROP27, ROP28 and ROP30 were deleted individually and in combination, and the mutant parasites were assessed for growth and their ability to form tissue cysts in mice. All knockouts lines were normal for in vitro growth and bradyzoite differentiation but a combined ∆rop21/∆rop17 knockout led to a 50% reduction in cyst burden in vivo. Our findings question the existing annotation of ROPKs based solely on bioinformatic techniques and yet highlight the importance of secreted kinases in determining the severity of chronic toxoplasmosis.
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