Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Plant hormone cytokinins control cell cycle progression and plastid replication in apicomplexan parasites

2017 Mar 23. pii: S1383-5769(16)30541-4. doi: 10.1016/j.parint.2017.03.003. [Epub ahead of print]

Cytokinins are plant hormones that are involved in regulation of cell proliferation, cell cycle progression, and cell and plastid development. Here, we show that the apicomplexan parasites Toxoplasma gondii and Plasmodium berghei, an opportunistic human pathogen and a rodent malaria agent, respectively, produce cytokinins via a biosynthetic pathway similar to that in plants. Cytokinins regulate the growth and cell cycle progression of T. gondii by mediating expression of the cyclin gene TgCYC4. A natural form of cytokinin, trans-zeatin (t-zeatin), upregulated expression of this cyclin, while a synthetic cytokinin, thidiazuron, downregulated its expression. Immunofluorescence microscopy and quantitative PCR analysis showed that t-zeatin increased the genome-copy number of apicoplast, which are non-photosynthetic plastid, in the parasite, while thidiazuron led to their disappearance. Thidiazuron inhibited growth of T. gondii and Plasmodium falciparum, a human malaria parasite, suggesting that thidiazuron has therapeutic potential as an inhibitor of apicomplexan parasites.


Cytokinins; Plant hormones; Plasmodium berghei; Thidiazuron; Toxoplasma gondii

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stability and function of a putative microtubule organizing center in the human parasite Toxoplasma gondii

2017 Mar 22. pii: mbc.E17-01-0045. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E17-01-0045. [Epub ahead of print]

The organization of the microtubule cytoskeleton is dictated by microtubule nucleators or organizing centers.  Toxoplasma gondii, an important human parasite, has an array of 22 regularly spaced cortical microtubules stemming from a hypothesized organizing center, the apical polar ring. Here, we examine the functions of the apical polar ring by characterizing two of its components, KinesinA and APR1, and discovered that its putative role in templating can be separated from its mechanical stability. Parasites that lack both KinesinA and APR1 (ΔkinesinAΔapr1) are capable of generating 22 cortical microtubules. However, the apical polar ring is fragmented in live ΔkinesinAΔapr1 parasites, and is undetectable by electron microscopy after detergent extraction. Disintegration of the apical polar ring results in the detachment of groups of microtubules from the apical end of the parasite. These structural defects are linked to a diminished ability of the parasite to move and to invade host cells, as well as decreased secretion of effectors important for these processes. Together, the findings demonstrate the importance of the structural integrity of the apical polar ring and the microtubule array in the Toxoplasma lytic cycle, which is responsible for massive tissue destruction in acute toxoplasmosis.

The Toxoplasma Parasitophorous Vacuole: An Evolving Host-Parasite Frontier

2017 Mar 19. pii: S1471-4922(17)30065-X. doi: 10.1016/j.pt.2017.02.007. [Epub ahead of print]

The parasitophorous vacuole is a unique replicative niche for apicomplexan parasites, including Toxoplasma gondii. Derived from host plasma membrane, the vacuole is rendered nonfusogenic with the host endolysosomal system. Toxoplasma secretes numerous proteins to modify the forming vacuole, enable nutrient uptake, and set up mechanisms of host subversion. Here we describe the pathways of host-parasite interaction at the parasitophorous vacuole employed by Toxoplasma and host, leading to the intricate balance of host defence versus parasite survival.


Toxoplasma gondii; guanylate-binding proteins; host–pathogen interaction; immunity-related GTPases; parasitophorous vacuole; rhoptry proteins

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toxoplasma gondii F-actin forms an extensive filamentous network required for material exchange and parasite maturation

 2017 Mar 21;6. pii: e24119. doi: 10.7554/eLife.24119. [Epub ahead of print]


Apicomplexan actin is important during the parasite's life cycle. Its polymerization kinetics are unusual, permitting only short, unstable F-actin filaments. It has not been possible to study actin in vivo and so its physiological roles have remained obscure, leading to models distinct from conventional actin behaviour. Here a modified version of the commercially available Actin-Chromobody® was tested as a novel tool for visualising F-actin dynamics in Toxoplasma gondii. Cb labels filamentous actin structures within the parasite cytosol and labels an extensive F-actin network that connects parasites within the parasitophorous vacuole and allows vesicles to be exchanged between parasites. In the absence of actin, parasites lack a residual body and inter-parasite connections and grow in an asynchronous and disorganized manner. Collectively, these data identify new roles for actin in the intracellular phase of the parasites lytic cycle and provide a robust new tool for imaging parasitic F-actin dynamics.


cell biology; infectious disease; microbiology

Lactate dehydrogenase in Toxoplasma gondii controls virulence, bradyzoite differentiation, and chronic infection

 2017 Mar 21;12(3):e0173745. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173745. eCollection 2017.


In the asexual stages, Toxoplasma gondii stage converts between acute phase rapidly replicating tachyzoites and chronic phase slowly dividing bradyzoites. Correspondingly, T. gondii differentially expresses two distinct genes and isoforms of the lactate dehydrogenase enzyme, expressing LDH1 exclusively in the tachyzoite stage and LDH2 preferentially in the bradyzoite stage. LDH catalyzes the interconversion of pyruvate and lactate in anaerobic growth conditions and is utilized for energy supply, however, the precise role of LDH1 and LDH2 in parasite biology in the asexual stages is still unclear. Here, we investigated the biological role of LDH1 and LDH2 in the asexual stages, and the vaccine strain potential of deletion mutants lacking LDH1, LDH2, or both genes (Δldh1, Δldh2 and Δldh1/2). Deletion of LDH1 reduced acute parasite virulence, impaired bradyzoite differentiation in vitro, and markedly reduced chronic stage cyst burdens in vivo. In contrast, deletion of LDH2 impaired chronic stage cyst burdens without affecting virulence or bradyzoite differentiation. Deletion of both LDH1 and LDH2 induced a more severe defect in chronic stage cyst burdens. These LDH mutant phenotypes were not associated with any growth defect. Vaccination of mice with a low dose of mutants deleted for LDH elicited effective protective immunity to lethal challenge infection, demonstrating the vaccine potential of LDH deletion mutants. These results suggest that lactate dehydrogenase in T. gondii controls virulence, bradyzoite differentiation, and chronic infection and reveals the potential of LDH mutants as vaccine strains.

iTRAQ-based differential proteomic analysis in Mongolian gerbil brains chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii

 2017 Mar 17. pii: S1874-3919(17)30096-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2017.03.012. [Epub ahead of print]


T.gondii can infect almost all nucleated cells with a preference for the CNS, which can induce Toxoplasma encephalitis (TE). However, the pathogenesis and mechanisms between the parasite and host associated with TE are largely unexplored. Around 30% of the world population is considered to have latent infection with T.gondii and >90% patients died of TE, while the proportion of secondary paralysis is also high. Patients of TE may have highly varied neurological symptoms with both focal and diffuse neurological lesions, while mental symptoms and behavior disorders are frequently accompanied, like the Alzheimer's disease (AD). We present a comparative proteomics analysis to explore the differences of protein expression caused by chronic T.gondii infection. The results of this analysis can be helpful for identifying key proteins involved in the pathogenesis of TE. In addition, the study can contribute to a better understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying the host-parasite relationship in chronic infection of T.gondii and facilitate further development of new therapies for TE.


Mongolian gerbil; Neuroinfections; T.Gondii; Toxoplasma encephalitis; iTRAQ labeling

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Toxoplasma gondii AP2IX-4 Regulates Gene Expression during Bradyzoite Development

2017 Mar 15;2(2). pii: e00054-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00054-17.


Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite of great importance to human and animal health. In the host, this obligate intracellular parasite persists as a tissue cyst that is imperceptible to the immune response and unaffected by current therapies. The tissue cysts facilitate transmission through predation and give rise to chronic cycles of toxoplasmosis in immunocompromised patients. Transcriptional changes accompany conversion of the rapidly replicating tachyzoites into the encysted bradyzoites, and yet the mechanisms underlying these alterations in gene expression are not well defined. Here we show that AP2IX-4 is a nuclear protein exclusively expressed in tachyzoites and bradyzoites undergoing division. Knockout of AP2IX-4 had no discernible effect on tachyzoite replication but resulted in a reduced frequency of tissue cyst formation following alkaline stress induction-a defect that is reversible by complementation. AP2IX-4 has a complex role in regulating bradyzoite gene expression, as the levels of many bradyzoite mRNAs dramatically increased beyond those seen under conditions of normal stress induction in AP2IX-4 knockout parasites exposed to alkaline media. The loss of AP2IX-4 also resulted in a modest virulence defect and reduced cyst burden in chronically infected mice, which was reversed by complementation. These findings illustrate that the transcriptional mechanisms responsible for tissue cyst development operate across the intermediate life cycle from the dividing tachyzoite to the dormant bradyzoite.

Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite that persists in its host as a transmissible tissue cyst. How the parasite converts from its replicative form to the bradyzoites housed in tissue cysts is not well understood, but the process clearly involves changes in gene expression. Here we report that parasites lacking a cell cycle-regulated transcription factor called AP2IX-4 display reduced frequencies of tissue cyst formation in culture and in a mouse model of infection. Parasites missing AP2IX-4 lose the ability to regulate bradyzoite genes during tissue cyst development. Expressed in developing bradyzoites still undergoing division, AP2IX-4 may serve as a useful marker in the study of transitional forms of the parasite.


ApiAP2; apicomplexan parasites; differentiation; gene expression; intracellular parasites; transcription

Two phylogenetically and compartmentally distinct CDP-diacylglycerol synthases cooperate for lipid biogenesis in Toxoplasma gondii

2017 Mar 17. pii: jbc.M116.765487. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.765487. [Epub ahead of print]

Toxoplasma gondii is among the most prevalent protozoan parasites, which infects a wide range of organisms including one-third of the human population. Its rapid intracellular replication within a vacuole requires efficient synthesis of glycerophospholipids. Cytidine diphosphate-diacylglycerol (CDP-DAG) serves as a major precursor for phospholipid synthesis. Given the peculiarities of lipid biogenesis, understanding the mechanism and physiological importance of CDP-DAG synthesis is particularly relevant in T. gondii Here, we report the occurrence of two phylogenetically divergent CDP-DAG synthase (CDS) enzymes in the parasite. The eukaryotic-type TgCDS1 and the prokaryotic-type TgCDS2 reside in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and apicoplast, respectively. Conditional knockdown of TgCDS1 severely attenuated the parasite growth and resulted in a nearly complete loss of virulence in a mouse model. Moreover, mice infected with the TgCDS1 mutant became fully resistant to challenge infection with a hyper-virulent strain of T. gondii The residual growth of the TgCDS1 mutant was abolished by consecutive deletion of TgCDS2. Lipidomic analyses of the mutants revealed significant and specific declines in phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylglycerol levels upon repression of TgCDS1 and following deletion of TgCDS2, respectively. Our data suggest a division of labor model of lipid biogenesis in T. gondii, in which two discrete CDP-DAG pools produced in the ER and apicoplast are subsequently used for the synthesis of phosphatidylinositol in the Golgi bodies and phosphatidylglycerol in the mitochondrion. The essential and divergent nature of CDP-DAG synthesis in the parasite apicoplast offers a potential drug target to inhibit the asexual reproduction of T. gondii.


Toxoplasma gondii; glycerophospholipid; parasite metabolism; phosphatidylglycerol; phosphatidylinositol

Friday, March 17, 2017

Chinese 1 strain of Toxoplasma gondii excreted-secreted antigens negatively modulate Foxp3 via inhibition of the TGFßRII/Smad2/Smad3/Smad4 pathway

2017 Mar 16. doi: 10.1111/jcmm.13115. [Epub ahead of print]

Toxoplasma gondii is an opportunistic intracellular parasite and is considered an important aetiological factor in the process of abortion, especially as occurs in early gestation. Chinese 1 strain of T. gondii is a dominant genotype prevalent in China. Although it is known that early foetal resorption triggered by RH strain of T. gondii is attributable to immune mechanisms rather than its direct effect in uterus, the underlying mechanism of the abortion caused by Chinese 1 strain remains unclear. This study was designed to investigate the effect of excreted-secreted antigens (ESA) of Chinese 1 strain of T. gondii on the expression of forkhead box transcription factor (Foxp3) as it pertains to early pregnancy and abortion. ESA caused a marked inhibition in the expression of Foxp3 both in vivo and in vitro. In addition, ESA negatively modulated Smad2 and Smad3 at the posttranslational level. Smad2 siRNA cooperated with ESA to further suppress the level of Foxp3. This inhibitory effect on Foxp3 expression was partially abrogated by overexpression of Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4. Additionally, ESA attenuated the expression of TGFßRII, whereas TGFßRII agonist could profoundly reversed the decreased Foxp3 triggered by ESA. Collectively, the findings suggested that ESA restricted Foxp3 expression by inhibiting TGFßRII/Smad2/Smad3/Smad4 signalling, ultimately resulting in abortion.


Chinese 1 strain of Toxoplasma gondii; Foxp3; TGFßRII/Smad2/Smad3/Smad4; excreted-secreted antigens

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The aromatic amino acid hydroxylase genes AAH1 and AAH2 in Toxoplasma gondii contribute to transmission in the cat

2017 Mar 13;13(3):e1006272. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006272. [Epub ahead of print]

The Toxoplasma gondii genome contains two aromatic amino acid hydroxylase genes, AAH1 and AAH2, which encode proteins that produce L-DOPA, which can serve as a precursor of catecholamine neurotransmitters. It has been suggested that this pathway elevates host dopamine levels thus making infected rodents less fearful of their definitive Felidae hosts. However, L-DOPA is also a structural precursor of melanins, secondary quinones, and dityrosine protein crosslinks, which are produced by many species. For example, dityrosine crosslinks are abundant in the oocyst walls of Eimeria and T. gondii, although their structural role has not been demonstrated, Here, we investigated the biology of AAH knockout parasites in the sexual reproductive cycle within cats. We found that ablation of the AAH genes resulted in reduced infection in the cat, lower oocyst yields, and decreased rates of sporulation. Our findings suggest that the AAH genes play a predominant role during infection in the gut of the definitive feline host.

Research advances in interactions related to Toxoplasma gondii microneme proteins

2017 Mar 9. pii: S0014-4894(16)30389-7. doi: 10.1016/j.exppara.2017.03.001. [Epub ahead of print]

Toxoplasma gondii microneme proteins (TgMICs), secreted by micronemes upon contact with host cells, are reported to play important roles in multiple stages of the T. gondii life cycle, including parasite motility, invasion, intracellular survival, and egress from host cells. Meanwhile, during these processes, TgMICs participate in many protein-protein and protein-carbohydrate interactions, such as undergoing proteolytic maturation, binding to aldolase, engaging the host cell receptors and forming the moving junction (MJ), relying on different types of ectodomains, transmembrane (TM) domains and cytoplasmic domains (CDs). In this review, we summarize the research advances in protein-protein and protein-carbohydrate interactions related to TgMICs, and their intimate associations with corresponding biological processes during T. gondii infection, which will contribute to an improved understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of T. gondii infection, and provide a basis for developing effective control strategies against T. gondii.


Host cells; Microneme proteins; Protein-carbohydrate interactions; Protein-protein interactions; Toxoplasma gondii

Enhanced susceptibility of triple transgenic Alzheimer's disease (3xTg-AD) mice to acute infection

2017 Mar 11;14(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s12974-017-0826-5.


Infection is a recognised risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD) and can worsen symptoms in established disease. AD patients have higher rates of infection and are more likely to require hospital admissions due to infections than individuals without dementia. Infections have also been found to increase the risk of those over 84 years of age being diagnosed with dementia. However, few studies have investigated immune responses to infection in AD.


Here, we investigated the immune responses of the triple transgenic Alzheimer's disease (3xTg-AD) mouse model of AD to infection with the parasites Toxoplasma gondii and Trichuris muris. Cytometric bead array, histology, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence were used to evaluate immune responses and the effects on the brain of acute infection.


3xTg-AD mice, despite having comparable parasite loads, were more susceptible to infection with more severe morbidity. A worsened outcome to infection can be linked to an exaggerated immune response. 3xTg-AD mice had an increased pro-inflammatory response characterised by the production of pro-inflammatory mediators such as tumour necrosis TNF-α, IL-6, CCL5 and CXCL-1, as well as an increase in immune cell infiltration to the sites of infection. T cell responses to parasite antigen also showed elevated production of the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-α (10 fold) and IL-6 (twofold). We investigated whether 3xTg-AD mice had a propensity for a more Th1-dominated response using the T. muris worm infection and showed that akin to T. gondii, there was an enhanced pro-inflammatory response which was associated with retention of worms in the gut and associated pathology. Irrespective of whether the infection was one that could infect the brain or cause a local gut inflammation, 3xTg-AD mice had increased numbers of activated microglia during infection in both the cortex and the hippocampus.


Our findings suggest that in AD, responses to infection are exaggerated outside of the CNS. Additionally, the results presented here indicate that both systemic and localised inflammation caused by an infection exacerbate neuroinflammation in AD.


Alzheimer’s disease; Cytokines; Infection; Inflammation; Microglia; Neuroinflammation; Toxoplasma gondii; Trichuris muris

Friday, March 10, 2017

The human immune response to Toxoplasma: Autophagy versus cell death

2017 Mar 9;13(3):e1006176. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006176. eCollection 2017.


Genomics of apicomplexan parasites

2017 Feb 22:1-20. doi: 10.1080/10409238.2017.1290043. [Epub ahead of print]

The increasing prevalence of infections involving intracellular apicomplexan parasites such as Plasmodium, Toxoplasma, and Cryptosporidium (the causative agents of malaria, toxoplasmosis, and cryptosporidiosis, respectively) represent a significant global healthcare burden. Despite their significance, few treatments are available; a situation that is likely to deteriorate with the emergence of new resistant strains of parasites. To lay the foundation for programs of drug discovery and vaccine development, genome sequences for many of these organisms have been generated, together with large-scale expression and proteomic datasets. Comparative analyses of these datasets are beginning to identify the molecular innovations supporting both conserved processes mediating fundamental roles in parasite survival and persistence, as well as lineage-specific adaptations associated with divergent life-cycle strategies. The challenge is how best to exploit these data to derive insights into parasite virulence and identify those genes representing the most amenable targets. In this review, we outline genomic datasets currently available for apicomplexans and discuss biological insights that have emerged as a consequence of their analysis. Of particular interest are systems-based resources, focusing on areas of metabolism and host invasion that are opening up opportunities for discovering new therapeutic targets.


Metabolism; apicomplexan genomics; genomics of apicomplexan parasites; host cell modulation; host invasion; parasite genomics; systems-based approaches

Galectins expressed differently in genetically susceptible C57BL/6 and resistant BALB/c mice during acute ocular Toxoplasma gondii infection

2017 Mar 9:1-9. doi: 10.1017/S0031182017000270. [Epub ahead of print]

Ocular toxoplasmosis (OT) caused by Toxoplasma gondii is a major cause of infectious uveitis, however little is known about its immunopathological mechanism. Susceptible C57BL/6 (B6) and resistant BALB/c mice were intravitreally infected with 500 tachyzoites of the RH strain of T. gondii. B6 mice showed more severe ocular pathology and higher parasite loads in the eyes. The levels of galectin (Gal)-9 and its receptors (Tim-3 and CD137), interferon (IFN)-γ, IL-6 and IL-10 were significantly higher in the eyes of B6 mice than those of BALB/c mice; however, the levels of IFN-α and -β were significantly decreased in the eyes and CLNs of B6 mice but significantly increased in BALB/c mice after infection. After blockage of galectin-receptor interactions by α-lactose, neither ocular immunopathology nor parasite loads were different from those of infected BALB/c mice without α-lactose treatment. Although the expressions of Gal-9/receptor were significantly increased in B6 mice and Gal-1 and -3 were upregulated in both strains of mice upon ocular T. gondii infection, blockage of galectins did not change the ocular pathogenesis of genetic resistant BALB/c mice. However, IFN-α and -β were differently expressed in B6 and BALB/c mice, suggesting that type I IFNs may play a protective role in experimental OT.


α-lactose; BALB/c mice; C57BL/6 mice; galectins; ocular toxoplasmosis; type I interferons