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1.  Toll-Like Receptors in Leishmania Infections: Guardians or Promoters? 
Protozoa of the genus Leishmania cause a wide variety of pathologies ranging from self-healing skin lesions to visceral damage, depending on the parasite species. The outcome of infection depends on the quality of the adaptive immune response, which is determined by parasite factors and the host genetic background. Innate responses, resulting in the generation of mediators with anti-leishmanial activity, contribute to parasite control and help the development of efficient adaptive responses. Among those, the potential contribution of members of the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) family in the control of Leishmania infections started to be investigated about a decade ago. Although most studies appoint a protective role for TLRs, there is growing evidence that in some cases, TLRs facilitate infection. This review highlights recent advances in TLR function during Leishmania infections and discusses their potential role in restraining parasite growth versus yielding disease.
doi:10.1155/2012/930257
PMCID: PMC3317170  PMID: 22523644
2.  Leishmania inhibitor of serine peptidase prevents TLR4 activation by neutrophil elastase promoting parasite survival in murine macrophages 
Leishmania major is a protozoan parasite that causes skin ulcerations in cutaneous leishmaniasis. In the mammalian host, the parasite resides in professional phagocytes and has evolved to avoid killing by macrophages. We identified L. major genes encoding inhibitors of serine peptidases, ISPs, which are orthologues of bacterial ecotins and found that ISP2 inhibits trypsin-fold S1A family peptidases. Here we show that L. major mutants deficient in ISP2 and ISP3 (Δisp2/3) trigger higher phagocytosis by macrophages through a combined action of the complement type-3 receptor (CR3), toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and unregulated activity of neutrophil elastase (NE), leading to parasite killing. While all three components are required to mediate enhanced parasite uptake, only TLR4 and NE are necessary to promote parasite killing after infection. We found that the production of superoxide by macrophages in the absence of ISP2 is the main mechanism controlling the intracellular infection. Furthermore, we show that NE modulates macrophage infection in vivo, and that the lack of ISP leads to reduced parasite burdens at later stages of the infection. Our findings support the hypothesis that ISPs function to prevent the activation of TLR4 by NE during the Leishmania-macrophage interaction in order to promote parasite survival and growth.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1002175
PMCID: PMC3119636  PMID: 21098233
3.  Crovirin, a Snake Venom Cysteine-Rich Secretory Protein (CRISP) with Promising Activity against Trypanosomes and Leishmania 
Background
The neglected human diseases caused by trypanosomatids are currently treated with toxic therapy with limited efficacy. In search for novel anti-trypanosomatid agents, we showed previously that the Crotalus viridis viridis (Cvv) snake venom was active against infective forms of Trypanosoma cruzi. Here, we describe the purification of crovirin, a cysteine-rich secretory protein (CRISP) from Cvv venom with promising activity against trypanosomes and Leishmania.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Crude venom extract was loaded onto a reverse phase analytical (C8) column using a high performance liquid chromatographer. A linear gradient of water/acetonitrile with 0.1% trifluoroacetic acid was used. The peak containing the isolated protein (confirmed by SDS-PAGE and mass spectrometry) was collected and its protein content was measured. T. cruzi trypomastigotes and amastigotes, L. amazonensis promastigotes and amastigotes and T. brucei rhodesiense procyclic and bloodstream trypomastigotes were challenged with crovirin, whose toxicity was tested against LLC-MK2 cells, peritoneal macrophages and isolated murine extensor digitorum longus muscle. We purified a single protein from Cvv venom corresponding, according to Nano-LC MS/MS sequencing, to a CRISP of 24,893.64 Da, henceforth referred to as crovirin. Human infective trypanosomatid forms, including intracellular amastigotes, were sensitive to crovirin, with low IC50 or LD50 values (1.10–2.38 µg/ml). A considerably higher concentration (20 µg/ml) of crovirin was required to elicit only limited toxicity on mammalian cells.
Conclusions
This is the first report of CRISP anti-protozoal activity, and suggests that other members of this family might have potential as drugs or drug leads for the development of novel agents against trypanosomatid-borne neglected diseases.
Author Summary
The pathogenic trypanosomatid parasites of the genera Leishmania and Trypanosoma infect over 20 million people worldwide, with an annual incidence of ∼3 million new infections. An additional 400 million people are at risk of infection by exposure to parasite-infected insects which act as disease vectors. Trypanosomatid-borne diseases predominant in poorer nation and are considered neglected, having failed to attract the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. However, novel therapy is sorely needed for Trypanosoma and Leishmania infections, currently treated with ‘dated’ drugs that are often difficult to administer in resource-limiting conditions, have high toxicity and are by no means always successful, partly due to the emergence of drug resistance. The last few decades have witnessed a growing interest in examining the potential of bioactive toxins and poisons as drugs or drug leads, as well as for diagnostic applications. In this context, we isolated and purified crovirin, a protein from the Crotalus viridis viridis (Cvv) snake venom capable to inhibiting and/or lysing infective forms of trypanosomatid parasites, at concentrations that are not toxic to host cells. This feature makes crovirin a promising candidate protein for the development of novel therapy against neglected diseases caused by trypanosomatid pathogens.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003252
PMCID: PMC4199522  PMID: 25330220
4.  Role of protein kinase R in the killing of Leishmania major by macrophages in response to neutrophil elastase and TLR4 via TNFα and IFNβ 
The FASEB Journal  2014;28(7):3050-3063.
In cutaneous leishmaniasis, Leishmania amazonensis activates macrophage double-stranded, RNA-activated protein kinase R (PKR) to promote parasite growth. In our study, Leishmania major grew normally in RAW cells, RAW-expressing dominant-negative PKR (PKR-DN) cells, and macrophages of PKR-knockout mice, revealing that PKR is dispensable for L. major growth in macrophages. PKR activation in infected macrophages with poly I:C resulted in parasite death. Fifty percent of L. major-knockout lines for the ecotin-like serine peptidase inhibitor (ISP2; Δisp2/isp3), an inhibitor of neutrophil elastase (NE), died in RAW cells or macrophages from 129Sv mice, as a result of PKR activation. Inhibition of PKR or NE or neutralization of Toll-like receptor 4 or 2(TLR4 or TLR2) prevented the death of Δisp2/isp3. Δisp2/isp3 grew normally in RAW-PKR-DN cells or macrophages from 129Sv pkr−/−, tlr2−/−, trif−/−, and myd88−/− mice, associating NE activity, PKR, and TLR responses with parasite death. Δisp2/isp3 increased the expression of mRNA for TNF-α by 2-fold and of interferon β (IFNβ) in a PKR-dependent manner. Antibodies to TNF-α reversed the 95% killing by Δisp2/isp3, whereas they grew normally in macrophages from IFN receptor–knockout mice. We propose that ISP2 prevents the activation of PKR via an NE-TLR4-TLR2 axis to control innate responses that contribute to the killing of L. major.—Faria, M. S., Calegari-Silva, T. C., de Carvalho Vivarini, A., Mottram, J. C., Lopes, U. G., Lima, A. P. C. A. Role of protein kinase R in the killing of Leishmania major by macrophages in response to neutrophil elastase and TLR4 via TNFα and IFNβ.
doi:10.1096/fj.13-245126
PMCID: PMC4210457  PMID: 24732131
ecotin; Toll; interferon; ISP2
5.  Protease Activated Receptor Signaling Is Required for African Trypanosome Traversal of Human Brain Microvascular Endothelial Cells 
Background
Using human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMECs) as an in vitro model for how African trypanosomes cross the human blood-brain barrier (BBB) we recently reported that the parasites cross the BBB by generating calcium activation signals in HBMECs through the activity of parasite cysteine proteases, particularly cathepsin L (brucipain). In the current study, we examined the possible role of a class of protease stimulated HBMEC G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) known as protease activated receptors (PARs) that might be implicated in calcium signaling by African trypanosomes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using RNA interference (RNAi) we found that in vitro PAR-2 gene (F2RL1) expression in HBMEC monolayers could be reduced by over 95%. We also found that the ability of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense to cross F2RL1-silenced HBMEC monolayers was reduced (39%–49%) and that HBMECs silenced for F2RL1 maintained control levels of barrier function in the presence of the parasite. Consistent with the role of PAR-2, we found that HBMEC barrier function was also maintained after blockade of Gαq with Pasteurella multocida toxin (PMT). PAR-2 signaling has been shown in other systems to have neuroinflammatory and neuroprotective roles and our data implicate a role for proteases (i.e. brucipain) and PAR-2 in African trypanosome/HBMEC interactions. Using gene-profiling methods to interrogate candidate HBMEC pathways specifically triggered by brucipain, several pathways that potentially link some pathophysiologic processes associated with CNS HAT were identified.
Conclusions/Significance
Together, the data support a role, in part, for GPCRs as molecular targets for parasite proteases that lead to the activation of Gαq-mediated calcium signaling. The consequence of these events is predicted to be increased permeability of the BBB to parasite transmigration and the initiation of neuroinflammation, events precursory to CNS disease.
Author Summary
Human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, occurs when single-cell trypanosome protozoan parasites spread from the blood to brain over the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This barrier is composed of brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) especially designed to keep pathogens out. Safe drugs for treating sleeping sickness are lacking and alternative treatments are urgently required. Using our human BMEC BBB model, we previously found that a parasite protease, brucipain, induced calcium activation signals that allowed this barrier to open up to parasite crossing. Because human BMECs express protease-activated receptors (PARs) that trigger calcium signals in BMECs, we hypothesized a functional link between parasite brucipain and BMEC PARs. Utilizing RNA interference to block the production of one type of PAR called PAR-2, we hindered the ability of trypanosomes to both open up and cross human BMECs. Using gene-profiling methods to interrogate candidate BMEC pathways specifically triggered by brucipain, several pathways that potentially link brain inflammatory processes were identified, a finding congruent with the known role of PAR-2 as a mediator of inflammation. Overall, our data support a role for brucipain and BMEC PARs in trypanosome BBB transmigration, and as potential triggers for brain inflammation associated with the disease.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000479
PMCID: PMC2707606  PMID: 19621073
6.  Role of the Trypanosoma brucei natural cysteine peptidase inhibitor ICP in differentiation and virulence 
Molecular Microbiology  2007;66(4):991-1002.
ICP is a chagasin-family natural tight binding inhibitor of Clan CA, family C1 cysteine peptidases (CPs). We investigated the role of ICP in Trypanosoma brucei by generating bloodstream form ICP-deficient mutants (Δicp). A threefold increase in CP activity was detected in lysates of Δicp, which was restored to the levels in wild type parasites by re-expression of the gene in the null mutant. Δicp displayed slower growth in culture and increased resistance to a trypanocidal synthetic CP inhibitor. More efficient exchange of the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) to procyclin during differentiation from bloodstream to procyclic form was observed in Δicp, a phenotype that was reversed in the presence of synthetic CP inhibitors. Furthermore, we showed that degradation of anti-VSG IgG is abolished when parasites are pretreated with synthetic CP inhibitors, and that parasites lacking ICP degrade IgG more efficiently than wild type. In addition, Δicp reached higher parasitemia than wild type parasites in infected mice, suggesting that ICP modulates parasite infectivity. Taken together, these data suggest that CPs of T. brucei bloodstream form play a role in surface coat exchange during differentiation, in the degradation of internalized IgG and in parasite infectivity, and that their function is regulated by ICP.
doi:10.1111/j.1365-2958.2007.05970.x
PMCID: PMC2680270  PMID: 17944830
7.  Influence of parasite encoded inhibitors of serine peptidases in early infection of macrophages with Leishmania major 
Cellular Microbiology  2009;11(1):106-120.
Ecotin is a potent inhibitor of family S1A serine peptidases, enzymes lacking in the protozoan parasite Leishmania major. Nevertheless, L. major has three ecotin-like genes, termed inhibitor of serine peptidase (ISP). ISP1 is expressed in vector-borne procyclic and metacyclic promastigotes, whereas ISP2 is also expressed in the mammalian amastigote stage. Recombinant ISP2 inhibited neutrophil elastase, trypsin and chymotrypsin with Kis between 7.7 and 83 nM. L. major ISP2–ISP3 double null mutants (Δisp2/3) were created. These grew normally as promastigotes, but were internalized by macrophages more efficiently than wild-type parasites due to the upregulation of phagocytosis by a mechanism dependent on serine peptidase activity. Δisp2/3 promastigotes transformed to amastigotes, but failed to divide for 48 h. Intracellular multiplication of Δisp2/3 was similar to wild-type parasites when serine peptidase inhibitors were present, suggesting that defective intracellular growth results from the lack of serine peptidase inhibition during promastigote uptake. Δisp2/3 mutants were more infective than wild-type parasites to BALB/c mice at the early stages of infection, but became equivalent as the infection progressed. These data support the hypothesis that ISPs of L. major target host serine peptidases and influence the early stages of infection of the mammalian host.
doi:10.1111/j.1462-5822.2008.01243.x
PMCID: PMC2659362  PMID: 19016791
8.  THE ROLE OF CONSERVED RESIDUES OF CHAGASIN IN THE INHIBITION OF CYSTEINE PEPTIDASES 
FEBS letters  2008;582(4):485-490.
We have evaluated the roles of key amino acids to the action of the natural inhibitor chagasin of papain-family cysteine peptidases. A W93A substitution decreased inhibitor affinity for human cathepsin L 100-fold, while substitutions of T31 resulted in 10-100-fold increases in the Ki for cruzipain of Trypanosoma cruzi. A T31A/T32A double mutant had increased affinity for cathepsin L but not for cruzipain, while the T31-T32 deletion drastically affected inhibition of both human and parasite peptidases. These differential effects reflect the occurrence of direct interactions between chagasin and helix 8 of cathepsin L, interactions that do not occur with cruzipain.
doi:10.1016/j.febslet.2008.01.008
PMCID: PMC2607524  PMID: 18201565
Chagasin; cysteine peptidase; inhibitor; mutant; Trypanosoma
10.  The role of conserved residues of chagasin in the inhibition of cysteine peptidases 
Febs Letters  2008;582(4-3):485-490.
We have evaluated the roles of key amino acids to the action of the natural inhibitor chagasin of papain-family cysteine peptidases. A W93A substitution decreased inhibitor affinity for human cathepsin L 100-fold, while substitutions of T31 resulted in 10–100-fold increases in the Ki for cruzipain of Trypanosoma cruzi. A T31A/T32A double mutant had increased affinity for cathepsin L but not for cruzipain, while the T31-T32 deletion drastically affected inhibition of both human and parasite peptidases. These differential effects reflect the occurrence of direct interactions between chagasin and helix 8 of cathepsin L, interactions that do not occur with cruzipain.
doi:10.1016/j.febslet.2008.01.008
PMCID: PMC2607524  PMID: 18201565
Z-Phe-Arg-MCA, carbobenzoxy-phenylalanyl-arginyl-7-amido-4-methylcoumarin; PBS, phosphate buffered saline; cruzain, recombinant cruzipain truncated at the C-terminal extension; DTT, dithiothreitol; EDTA, ethylenidiaminetetracetic acid disodium salt 2-hydrate; E-64, l-trans-epoxysuccinylleucylamido-(4-guanidino) butane; IPTG, isopropyl-β-d-thiogalactopyranoside; Chagasin; Cysteine peptidase; Inhibitor; Mutant; Trypanosoma
11.  Blood-brain barrier traversal by African trypanosomes requires calcium signaling induced by parasite cysteine protease 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2006;116(10):2739-2747.
In this study we investigated why bloodstream forms of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense cross human brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs), a human blood-brain barrier (BBB) model system, at much greater efficiency than do T. b. brucei. After noting that T. b. gambiense displayed higher levels of cathepsin L–like cysteine proteases, we investigated whether these enzymes contribute to parasite crossing. First, we found that T. b. gambiense crossing of human BMECs was abrogated by N-methylpiperazine-urea-Phe-homopheylalanine-vinylsulfone-benzene (K11777), an irreversible inhibitor of cathepsin L–like cysteine proteases. Affinity labeling and immunochemical studies characterized brucipain as the K11777-sensitive cysteine protease expressed at higher levels by T. b. gambiense. K11777-treated T. b. gambiense failed to elicit calcium fluxes in BMECs, suggesting that generation of activation signals for the BBB is critically dependant on brucipain activity. Strikingly, crossing of T. b. brucei across the BBB was enhanced upon incubation with brucipain-rich supernatants derived from T. b. gambiense. The effects of the conditioned medium, which correlated with ability to evoke calcium fluxes, were canceled by K11777, but not by the cathepsin B inhibitor CA074. Collectively, these in vitro studies implicate brucipain as a critical driver of T. b. gambiense transendothelial migration of the human BBB.
doi:10.1172/JCI27798
PMCID: PMC1570376  PMID: 16998589
12.  A New Cruzipain-Mediated Pathway of Human Cell Invasion by Trypanosoma cruzi Requires Trypomastigote Membranes  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(10):5892-5902.
The intracellular protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas' disease, a chronic illness associated with cardiomyopathy and digestive disorders. This pathogen invades mammalian cells by signaling them through multiple transduction pathways. We previously showed that cruzipain, the main cysteine protease of T. cruzi, promotes host cell invasion by activating kinin receptors. Here, we report a cruzipain-mediated invasion route that is not blocked by kinin receptor antagonists. By testing different strains of T. cruzi, we observed a correlation between the level of cruzipain secreted by trypomastigotes and the capacity of the pathogen to invade host cells. Consistent with a role for cruzipain, the cysteine protease inhibitor N-methylpiperazine-urea-Phe-homophenylalanine-vinylsulfone-benzene impaired the invasion of human smooth muscle cells by strains Dm28c and X10/6 but not by the G isolate. Cruzipain-rich supernatants of Dm28c trypomastigotes enhanced the infectivity of isolate G parasites twofold, an effect which was abolished by the cysteine protease inhibitor l-trans-epoxysuccinyl-leucylamido-(4-guanidino)butane and by thapsigargin, a drug that induces depletion of the intracellular Ca2+ stores. The enhancement due to Dm28 supernatants was abolished upon cruzipain immunodepletion, and the activity was restored by purified cruzipain. In contrast, supernatants from isolate G trypomastigotes (with low levels of cruzipain) or supernatants from Dm28c epimastigotes or purified cruzipain alone did not enhance parasite invasion, indicating that the protease is required but not sufficient to engage this invasion pathway. We provide evidence that activation of this pathway requires cruzipain-mediated processing of a trypomastigote molecule associated with parasite-shed membranes. Our results couple cruzipain to host cell invasion through a kinin-independent route and further suggest that high-level cruzipain expression may contribute to parasite infectivity.
doi:10.1128/IAI.72.10.5892-5902.2004
PMCID: PMC517595  PMID: 15385491
13.  Host Cell Invasion by TRYPANOSOMA cRUZI Is Potentiated by Activation of Bradykinin B2 Receptors 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2000;192(9):1289-1300.
The parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi employs multiple molecular strategies to invade a broad range of nonphagocytic cells. Here we demonstrate that the invasion of human primary umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) or Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells overexpressing the B2 type of bradykinin receptor (CHO-B2R) by tissue culture trypomastigotes is subtly modulated by the combined activities of kininogens, kininogenases, and kinin-degrading peptidases. The presence of captopril, an inhibitor of bradykinin degradation by kininase II, drastically potentiated parasitic invasion of HUVECs and CHO-B2R, but not of mock-transfected CHO cells, whereas the B2R antagonist HOE 140 or monoclonal antibody MBK3 to bradykinin blocked these effects. Invasion competence correlated with the parasites' ability to liberate the short-lived kinins from cell-bound kininogen and to elicit vigorous intracellular free calcium ([Ca2+]i) transients through B2R. Invasion was impaired by membrane-permeable cysteine proteinase inhibitors such as Z-(SBz)Cys-Phe-CHN2 but not by the hydrophilic inhibitor 1-trans-epoxysuccinyl-l-leucyl-amido-(4-guanidino) butane or cystatin C, suggesting that kinin release is confined to secluded spaces formed by juxtaposition of host cell and parasite plasma membranes. Analysis of trypomastigote transfectants expressing various cysteine proteinase isoforms showed that invasion competence is linked to the kinin releasing activity of cruzipain, herein proposed as a factor of virulence in Chagas' disease.
PMCID: PMC2193362  PMID: 11067878
Trypanosoma cruzi; bradykinin; cruzipain; cysteine proteinases; kinin receptors
14.  Ecotin-like serine peptidase inhibitor ISP1 of Leishmania major plays a role in flagellar pocket dynamics and promastigote differentiation 
Cellular Microbiology  2012;14(8):1271-1286.
Leishmania ISPs are ecotin-like natural peptide inhibitors of trypsin-family serine peptidases, enzymes that are absent from the Leishmania genome. This led to the proposal that ISPs inhibit host serine peptidases and we have recently shown that ISP2 inhibits neutrophil elastase, thereby enhancing parasite survival in murine macrophages. In this study we show that ISP1 has less serine peptidase inhibitory activity than ISP2, and in promastigotes both are generally located in the cytosol and along the flagellum. However, in haptomonad promastigotes there is a prominent accumulation of ISP1 and ISP2 in the hemidesmosome and for ISP2 on the cell surface. An L. major mutant deficient in all three ISP genes (Δisp1/2/3) was generated and compared with Δisp2/3 mutants to elucidate the physiological role of ISP1. In in vitro cultures, the Δisp1/2/3 mutant contained more haptomonad, nectomonad and leptomonad promastigotes with elongated flagella and reduced motility compared with Δisp2/3 populations, moreover it was characterized by very high levels of release of exosome-like vesicles from the flagellar pocket. These data suggest that ISP1 has a primary role in flagellar homeostasis, disruption of which affects differentiation and flagellar pocket dynamics.
doi:10.1111/j.1462-5822.2012.01798.x
PMCID: PMC3440592  PMID: 22486816

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