Autophagy is a conserved, life-promoting, catabolic process involved in the recycling of non-essential cellular components in response to stress. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is an early-diverging eukaryote in which part of the autophagy machinery is not exclusively involved in a catabolic process, but instead has been repurposed for an original function in organelle inheritance during cell division. This function, depending essentially on protein TgATG8 and its membrane conjugation system, is crucial for parasite survival and prevented an in depth study of autophagy in the mutants generated so far in Toxoplasma. Thus, in order to decipher the primary function of canonical autophagy in the parasites, we generated a cell line deficient for TgATG9, a protein thought to be involved in the early steps of the autophagy process. While the protein proved to be dispensable for the development of these obligate intracellular parasites in vitro, the absence of TgATG9 led to a reduced ability to sustain prolonged extracellular stress. Importantly, depletion of the protein significantly reduced parasites survival in macrophages, and markedly attenuated their virulence in mice. Altogether, this shows TgATG9 is important for the fate of Toxoplasma in immune cells and contributes to the overall virulence of the parasite, possibly through an involvement in a canonical autophagy pathway.
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.