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1.  Toxoplasma gondii Sis1-like J-domain protein is a cytosolic chaperone associated to HSP90/HSP70 complex 
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite in which 36 predicted Hsp40 family members were identified by searching the T. gondii genome. The predicted protein sequence from the gene ID TGME49_065310 showed an amino acid sequence and domain structure similar to Saccharomyces cerevisiae Sis1. TgSis1 did not show differences in its expression profile during alkaline stress by microarray analysis. Furthermore, TgSis1 showed to be a cytosolic Hsp40 which co-immunoprecipitated with T. gondii Hsp70 and Hsp90. Structural modeling of the TgSis1 peptide binding fragment revealed structural and electrostatic properties different from the experimental model of human Sis1-like protein (Hdj1). Based on these differences; we propose that TgSis1 may be a potentially attractive drug target for developing a novel anti-T. gondii therapy.
doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2011.12.012
PMCID: PMC3295895  PMID: 22209934
Toxoplasma; HSP40; HSP90
2.  Base excision repair apurinic/apyrimidinic endonucleases in apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii 
DNA repair  2011;10(5):466-475.
DNA repair is essential for cell viability and proliferation. In addition to reactive oxygen produced as a byproduct of their own metabolism, intracellular parasites also have to manage oxidative stress generated as a defense mechanism by the host. The spontaneous loss of DNA bases due to hydrolysis and oxidative DNA damage in intracellular parasites is great, but little is known about the type of DNA repair machineries that exist in these early-branching eukaryotes. However, it is clear processes similar to DNA base excision repair (BER) must exist to rectify spontaneous and host-mediated damage in Toxoplasma gondii. Here we report that Toxoplasma gondii, an opportunistic protozoan pathogen, possesses two apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) endonucleases that function in DNA BER. We characterize the enzymatic activities of Toxoplasma exonuclease III (ExoIII, or Ape1) and endonuclease IV (EndoIV, or Apn1), designated TgAPE and TgAPN, respectively. Over-expression of TgAPN in Toxoplasma conferred protection from DNA damage, and viable knockouts of TgAPN were not obtainable. We generated an inducible TgAPN knockdown mutant using a ligand-controlled destabilization domain to establish that TgAPN is critical for Toxoplasma to recover from DNA damage. The importance of TgAPN and the fact that humans lack any observable APN family activity highlights TgAPN as a promising candidate for drug development to treat toxoplasmosis.
doi:10.1016/j.dnarep.2011.01.011
PMCID: PMC3084321  PMID: 21353648
BER; DNA damage; APE1; APN1; protozoa; malaria
3.  A decade of epigenetic research in Toxoplasma gondii 
In the past ten years, the field of parasitology has witnessed an explosion of studies investigating gene regulation. In this review, we will describe recent advances largely stemming from the study of Toxoplasma gondii, a significant opportunistic pathogen and useful model for other apicomplexan protozoa. Surprising findings have emerged, including the discovery of a wealth of epigenetic machinery in these primitive eukaryotes, unusual histone variants, and a battery of plant-like transcription factors. We will elaborate on how these unusual features impact parasite physiology and potential therapeutics as we summarize some of the key discoveries from the last decade. We will close by proposing a few questions to address in the next ten years.
doi:10.1016/j.molbiopara.2010.05.001
PMCID: PMC2886187  PMID: 20470832
chromatin; histone; transcription; differentiation; Apicomplexa; parasite
4.  Toxoplasma gondii Lysine Acetyltransferase GCN5-A Functions in the Cellular Response to Alkaline Stress and Expression of Cyst Genes 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(12):e1001232.
Parasitic protozoa such as the apicomplexan Toxoplasma gondii progress through their life cycle in response to stimuli in the environment or host organism. Very little is known about how proliferating tachyzoites reprogram their expressed genome in response to stresses that prompt development into latent bradyzoite cysts. We have previously linked histone acetylation with the expression of stage-specific genes, but the factors involved remain to be determined. We sought to determine if GCN5, which operates as a transcriptional co-activator by virtue of its histone acetyltransferase (HAT) activity, contributed to stress-induced changes in gene expression in Toxoplasma. In contrast to other lower eukaryotes, Toxoplasma has duplicated its GCN5 lysine acetyltransferase (KAT). Disruption of the gene encoding for TgGCN5-A in type I RH strain did not produce a severe phenotype under normal culture conditions, but here we show that the TgGCN5-A null mutant is deficient in responding to alkaline pH, a common stress used to induce bradyzoite differentiation in vitro. We performed a genome-wide analysis of the Toxoplasma transcriptional response to alkaline pH stress, finding that parasites deleted for TgGCN5-A fail to up-regulate 74% of the stress response genes that are induced 2-fold or more in wild-type. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation, we verify an enrichment of TgGCN5-A at the upstream regions of genes activated by alkaline pH exposure. The TgGCN5-A knockout is also incapable of up-regulating key marker genes expressed during development of the latent cyst form, and is impaired in its ability to recover from alkaline stress. Complementation of the TgGCN5-A knockout restores the expression of these stress-induced genes and reverses the stress recovery defect. These results establish TgGCN5-A as a major contributor to the alkaline stress response in RH strain Toxoplasma.
Author Summary
Protozoan parasites cause significant disease in humans and livestock, and many of our current therapies have serious side effects or are being rendered useless due to the development of drug resistance. These parasites typically have complex life cycles involving multiple hosts and some, like Toxoplasma gondii, have the ability to remain in the host for life as a latent tissue cyst. Toxoplasma is one of the most successful parasites on Earth because the ability to develop into a tissue cyst greatly facilitates transmission through carnivores. Cyst formation also is responsible for recrudescent infection in immunocompromised patients. The conversion of Toxoplasma from its replicating cell to the cyst is triggered by stress, but we have little understanding of how the parasite stress response functions. In this study, we identify the genes involved in Toxoplasma's response to alkaline stress, which is a known trigger of cyst development. We also establish that a lysine acetyltransferase enzyme called TgGCN5-A is required for type I RH strain Toxoplasma to respond normally to alkaline stress. Parasites lacking TgGCN5-A are no longer capable of activating genes induced during cyst formation triggered by alkaline pH.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001232
PMCID: PMC3003489  PMID: 21179246
5.  Toxoplasma H2A Variants Reveal Novel Insights into Nucleosome Composition and Functions for this Histone Family 
Journal of molecular biology  2009;392(1):33-47.
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite. Toxoplasmosis is incurable because of its ability to differentiate from the rapidly replicating tachyzoite stage into a latent cyst form (bradyzoite stage). Gene regulation pertinent to Toxoplasma differentiation involves histone modification, but very little is known about the histone proteins in this early branching eukaryote. Here we report the characterization of three H2A histones, a canonical H2A1 and variants H2AX and H2AZ. H2AZ is the minor parasite H2A member. H2A1 and H2AX both have an SQ motif, but only H2AX has a complete SQ(E/D)φ (φ denotes a hydrophobic residue) known to be phosphorylated in response to DNA damage. We also show that a novel H2B variant interacts with H2AZ and H2A1 but not with H2AX. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) revealed that H2AZ and H2Bv are enriched at active genes while H2AX is enriched at repressed genes as well as the silent TgIRE repeat element. During DNA damage, we detected an increase in H2AX phosphorylation as well as increases in h2a1 and h2ax transcription. We also found that h2ax expression, but not h2a1 and h2az, increases in bradyzoites generated in vitro. Similar analysis performed on mature bradyzoites generated in vivo, which are arrested in G0, showed that h2az and h2ax are actively expressed and h2a1 is not, consistent with the idea that h2a1 is the canonical histone orthologue in the parasite. The increase of H2AX, which localizes to silenced areas during bradyzoite differentiation, is consistent with the quiescent nature of this life cycle stage. Our results indicate that the early-branching eukaryotic parasite Toxoplasma contains nucleosomes of novel composition, which is likely to impact multiple facets of parasite biology, including the clinically important process of bradyzoite differentiation.
doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2009.07.017
PMCID: PMC2734877  PMID: 19607843
Toxoplasma gondii; histone; nucleosome; development; chromatin; epigenetics
6.  Azurin-Like Protein Blocks Invasion of Toxoplasma gondii through Potential Interactions with Parasite Surface Antigen SAG1▿  
Some pathogenic bacteria produce factors that have evolved a capacity to neutralize competing microbes. The cupredoxin family protein azurin, produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, exhibits a remarkable ability to impede invasion of a number of diverse intracellular pathogens, including the human AIDS virus human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum (which causes malaria). Here we report that azurin and an azurin-like protein (Laz) from gonococci/meningococci have activity against Toxoplasma, an apicomplexan parasite that causes opportunistic infection in immunocompromised individuals. We demonstrate that the mechanism of action for Laz involves interfering with the ability of Toxoplasma to adhere to host cells. Computer structural analysis reveals that azurin shares structural features with the predominant surface antigen SAG1, which is known to play an important role in parasite attachment. Interestingly, azurin also has structural similarities to a monoclonal antibody to SAG1. Surface plasmon resonance binding studies validate that SAG1 interacts strongly with Laz and, to lesser extent, azurin. Moreover, Toxoplasma mutants lacking SAG1 are not as susceptible to the growth-inhibitory effects of Laz. Collectively, our data show that Toxoplasma adhesion can be significantly impaired by Laz, and to some extent by azurin, via interactions with SAG1. These observations indicate that Laz can serve as an important tool in the study of host-pathogen interactions and is worthy of further study for development into potential therapeutic agents.
doi:10.1128/AAC.01005-07
PMCID: PMC2224740  PMID: 18070964
7.  In Vitro Metacestodicidal Activities of Genistein and Other Isoflavones against Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus granulosus▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2006;50(11):3770-3778.
Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus granulosus metacestode infections in humans cause alveolar echinococcosis and cystic echinococcosis, respectively, in which metacestode development in visceral organs often results in particular organ failure. Further, cystic hydatidosis in farm animals causes severe economic losses. Although benzimidazole derivatives such as mebendazole and albendazole are being used as therapeutic agents, there is often no complete recovery after treatment. Hence, in searching for novel treatment options, we examined the in vitro efficacies of a number of isoflavones against Echinococcus metacestodes and protoscoleces. The most prominent isoflavone, genistein, exhibits significant metacestodicidal activity in vitro. However, genistein binds to the estrogen receptor and can thus induce estrogenic effects, which is a major concern during long-term chemotherapy. We have therefore investigated the activities of a number of synthetic genistein derivatives carrying a modified estrogen receptor binding site. One of these, Rm6423, induced dramatic breakdown of the structural integrity of the metacestode germinal layer of both species within 5 to 7 days of in vitro treatment. Further, examination of the culture medium revealed increased leakage of parasite proteins into the medium during treatment, but zymography demonstrated a decrease in the activity of metalloproteases. Moreover, two of the genistein derivatives, Rm6423 and Rm6426, induced considerable damage in E. granulosus protoscoleces, rendering them nonviable. These findings demonstrate that synthetic isoflavones exhibit distinct in vitro effects on Echinococcus metacestodes and protoscoleces, which could potentially be exploited further for the development of novel chemotherapeutical tools against larval-stage Echinococcus infection.
doi:10.1128/AAC.00578-06
PMCID: PMC1635224  PMID: 16954323
8.  Identification and Characterization of a Neospora caninum Microneme-Associated Protein (NcMIC4) That Exhibits Unique Lactose-Binding Properties  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(8):4791-4800.
Microneme proteins have been shown to play an important role in the early phase of host cell adhesion, by mediating the contact between the parasite and host cell surface receptors. In this study we have identified and characterized a lectin-like protein of Neospora caninum tachyzoites which was purified by α-lactose-agarose affinity chromatography. Upon separation by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, this lactose-binding protein migrated at 70 and 55 kDa under reducing and nonreducing conditions, respectively. Immunofluorescence and immunogold electron microscopy with affinity-purified antibodies showed that the protein was associated with the tachyzoite micronemes. Mass spectrometry analyses and expressed sequence tag database mining revealed that this protein is a member of the Neospora microneme protein family; the protein was named NcMIC4 (N. caninum microneme protein 4). Upon two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, NcMIC4 separated into seven distinct isoforms. Incubation of extracellular parasites at 37°C resulted in the secretion of NcMIC4 into the medium as a soluble protein, and the secreted protein exhibited a slightly reduced Mr but retained its lactose-binding properties. Immunofluorescence was used to investigate the temporal and spatial distribution of NcMIC4 in tachyzoites entering their host cells and showed that reexpression of NcMIC4 took place 30 min after entry into the host cell. Incubation of secreted fractions and purified NcMIC4 with Vero cells demonstrated binding of NcMIC4 to Vero cells as well as binding to chondroitin sulfate A glycosaminoglycans.
doi:10.1128/IAI.72.8.4791-4800.2004
PMCID: PMC470650  PMID: 15271941
9.  In Vitro Induction of Neospora caninum Bradyzoites in Vero Cells Reveals Differential Antigen Expression, Localization, and Host-Cell Recognition of Tachyzoites and Bradyzoites  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(1):576-583.
We report on an optimized method for the in vitro culture of tissue cyst-forming Neospora caninum bradyzoites in Vero cells and the separation of viable parasites from host cells. Treatment of tachyzoite-infected Vero cell cultures with 17 μM sodium nitroprusside for 8 days severely scaled down parasite proliferation, led to reduced expression of tachyzoite surface antigens, and induced the expression of the bradyzoite marker NcBAG1 and the cyst wall antigen recognized by the monoclonal antibody MAbCC2. Transmission electron microscopy demonstrated that intracellular parasites were located within parasitophorous vacuoles that were surrounded by a cyst wall-like structure, and the dense granule antigens NcGRA1, NcGRA2, and NcGRA7 were incorporated into the cyst wall. Adhesion-invasion assays employing purified tachyzoites and bradyzoites showed that tachyzoites adhered to, and invaded, Vero cells with higher efficiency than bradyzoites. However, removal of terminal sialic acid residues from either the host cell or the parasite surface increased the invasion of Vero cells by bradyzoites, but not tachyzoites.
doi:10.1128/IAI.72.1.576-583.2004
PMCID: PMC343979  PMID: 14688139
10.  Identification of a Neospora caninum Microneme Protein (NcMIC1) Which Interacts with Sulfated Host Cell Surface Glycosaminoglycans  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(6):3187-3198.
The invasive stages of apicomplexan parasites enter their host cells through mechanisms which are largely conserved throughout the phylum. Host cell invasion is divided into two distinct events, namely, adhesion onto the host cell surface and the actual host cell entry process. The former is mediated largely through microneme proteins which are secreted at the onset of establishing contact with the host cell surface. Many of the microneme proteins identified so far contain adhesive domains. We here present the genomic and corresponding cDNA sequences coding for a 460-amino-acid (aa) microneme protein in Neospora caninum tachyzoites which, due to its homology to MIC1 in Toxoplasma gondii (TgMIC1), was named NcMIC1. The deduced NcMIC1 polypeptide sequence contains an N-terminal signal peptide of 20 aa followed by two tandemly internal repeats of 48 and 44 aa, respectively. Integrated into each repeat is a CXXXCG sequence motif reminiscent of the thrombospondin-related family of adhesive proteins. The positioning of this motif is strictly conserved in TgMIC1 and NcMIC1. The C-terminal part, comprised of 278 aa, was expressed in Escherichia coli, and antibodies affinity purified on recombinant NcMIC1 were used to confirm the localization within the micronemes by immunofluorescence and immunogold transmission electron microscopy of tachyzoites. Immunohistochemistry of mouse brains infected with tissue cysts showed that expression of this protein is reduced in the bradyzoite stage. Upon initiation of secretion by elevating the temperature to 37°C, NcMIC1 is released into the medium supernatant. NcMIC1 binds to trypsinized, rounded Vero cells, as well as to Vero cell monolayers. Removal of glycosaminoglycans from the host cell surface and modulation of host cell surface glycosaminoglycan sulfation significantly reduces the binding of NcMIC1 to the host cell surface. Solid-phase binding assays employing defined glycosaminoglycans confirmed that NcMIC1 binds to sulfated glycosaminoglycans.
doi:10.1128/IAI.70.6.3187-3198.2002
PMCID: PMC127992  PMID: 12011014
11.  Neospora caninum Microneme Protein NcMIC3: Secretion, Subcellular Localization, and Functional Involvement in Host Cell Interaction 
Infection and Immunity  2001;69(10):6483-6494.
In apicomplexan parasites, host cell adhesion and subsequent invasion involve the sequential release of molecules originating from secretory organelles named micronemes, rhoptries, and dense granules. Microneme proteins have been shown to be released at the onset of the initial contact between the parasite and the host cell and thus mediate and establish the physical interaction between the parasite and the host cell surface. This interaction most likely involves adhesive domains found within the polypeptide sequences of most microneme proteins identified to date. NcMIC3 is a microneme-associated protein found in Neospora caninum tachyzoites and bradyzoites, and a large portion of this protein is comprised of a stretch of four consecutive epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like domains. We determined the subcellular localization of NcMIC3 prior to and following host cell invasion and found that NcMIC3 was secreted onto the tachyzoite surface immediately following host cell lysis in a temperature-dependent manner. Surface-exposed NcMIC3 could be detected up to 2 to 3 h following host cell invasion, and at later time points the distribution of the protein was again restricted to the micronemes. In vitro secretion assays using purified tachyzoites showed that following secretion onto the surface, NcMIC3 was largely translocated towards the posterior end of the parasite, employing a mechanism which requires a functional actin microfilament system. Following this, the protein remained bound to the parasite surface, since it could not be detected in a soluble form in respective culture supernatants. Secretion of NcMIC3 onto the surface resulted in an outward exposure of the EGF-like domains and coincided with an increased capacity of N. caninum tachyzoites to adhere to Vero cell monolayers in vitro, a capacity which could be inhibited by addition of antibodies directed against the EGF-like domains. NcMIC3 is a prominent component of Triton X-100 lysates of tachyzoites, and cosedimentation assays employing prefixed Vero cells showed that the protein binds to the Vero cell surface. In addition, the EGF-like domains, expressed as recombinant proteins in Escherichia coli, also interacted with the Vero cell surface, while binding of NcSRS2 and NcSAG1, the major immunodominant surface antigens, was not as efficient. Our data are indicative of a functional role of NcMIC3 in host cell infection.
doi:10.1128/IAI.69.10.6483-6494.2001
PMCID: PMC98784  PMID: 11553593

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