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Author: Donna Huber

CRISPR/Cas9 Technology Applied to the Study of Proteins Involved in Calcium Signaling in Trypanosoma cruzi

Chagas disease is a vector-borne tropical disease affecting millions of people worldwide, for which there is no vaccine or satisfactory treatment available. It is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and considered endemic from North to South America. This parasite has unique metabolic and structural characteristics that make it an attractive organism for basic research. The genetic manipulation of T. cruzi has been historically challenging, as compared to other pathogenic protozoans. However, the use of the prokaryotic CRISPR/Cas9 system for genome editing has significantly improved the ability to generate genetically modified T. cruzi cell lines, becoming a powerful tool for the functional study of proteins in different stages of this parasite’s life cycle, including infective trypomastigotes and intracellular amastigotes. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 method that we adapted to T. cruzi, it has been possible to perform knockout, complementation and in situ tagging of T. cruzi genes. In our system we cotransfect T. cruzi epimastigotes with an expression vector containing the Cas9 sequence and a single guide RNA, together with a donor DNA template to promote DNA break repair by homologous recombination. As a result, we have obtained homogeneous populations of mutant epimastigotes using a single resistance marker to modify both alleles of the gene. Mitochondrial Ca2+ transport in trypanosomes is critical for shaping the dynamics of cytosolic Ca2+ increases, for the bioenergetics of the cells, and for viability and infectivity. In this chapter we describe the most effective methods to achieve genome editing in T. cruzi using as example the generation of mutant cell lines to study proteins involved in calcium homeostasis. Specifically, we describe the methods we have used for the study of three proteins involved in the calcium signaling cascade of T. cruzi: the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor (TcIP3R), the mitochondrial calcium uniporter (TcMCU) and the calcium-sensitive pyruvate dehydrogenase phosphatase (TcPDP), using CRISPR/Cas9 technology as an approach to establish their role in the regulation of energy metabolism.

Noelia Lander, Miguel A. Chiurillo, Roberto Docampo. Methods Mol Biol. 2020;2116:177-197. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0294-2_13.

Isolation and Characterization of Acidocalcisomes from Trypanosomatids

Acidocalcisomes are membrane-bounded, electron-dense, acidic organelles, rich in calcium and polyphosphate. These organelles were first described in trypanosomatids and later found from bacteria to human cells. Some of the functions of the acidocalcisome are the storage of cations and phosphorus, participation in pyrophosphate (PPi) and polyphosphate (polyP) metabolism, calcium signaling, maintenance of intracellular pH homeostasis, autophagy, and osmoregulation. Isolation of acidocalcisomes is an important technique for understanding their composition and function. Here, we provide detailed subcellular fractionation protocols using iodixanol gradient centrifugations to isolate high-quality acidocalcisomes from Trypanosoma brucei, which are subsequently validated by electron microscopy, and enzymatic and immunoblot assays with organellar markers.

Guozhong Huang, Silvia N. J. Moreno, Roberto Docampo. Methods Mol Biol. 2020;2116:673-688. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0294-2_40.

Plasmodium vivax Liver and Blood Stages Recruit the Druggable Host Membrane Channel Aquaporin-3

Plasmodium vivax infects hepatocytes to form schizonts that cause blood infection, or dormant hypnozoites that can persist for months in the liver before leading to relapsing blood infections. The molecular processes that drive Pvivax schizont and hypnozoite survival remain largely unknown, but they likely involve a rich network of host-pathogen interactions, including those occurring at the host-parasite interface, the parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM). Using a recently developed Pvivax liver-stage model system we demonstrate that host aquaporin-3 (AQP3) localizes to the PVM of schizonts and hypnozoites within 5 days after invasion. This recruitment is also observed in Pvivax-infected reticulocytes. Chemical treatment with the AQP3 inhibitor auphen reduces Pvivax liver hypnozoite and schizont burden, and inhibits Pvivax asexual blood-stage growth. These findings reveal a role for AQP3 in Pvivax liver and blood stages and suggest that the protein may be targeted for therapeutic treatment.

Dora Posfai, Steven P. Maher, Camille Roesch, Amélie Vantaux, Kayla Sylvester, Julie Péneau, Jean Popovici, Dennis E. Kyle, Benoît Witkowski, Emily R. Derbyshire. Cell Chem Biol. 2020 Mar 24. pii: S2451-9456(20)30083-0. doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2020.03.009.

Acute Plasmodium Infection Promotes Interferon-Gamma-Dependent Resistance to Ebola Virus Infection

During the 2013-2016 Ebola virus (EBOV) epidemic, a significant number of patients admitted to Ebola treatment units were co-infected with Plasmodium falciparum, a predominant agent of malaria. However, there is no consensus on how malaria impacts EBOV infection. The effect of acute Plasmodium infection on EBOV challenge was investigated using mouse-adapted EBOV and a biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) model virus. We demonstrate that acute Plasmodium infection protects from lethal viral challenge, dependent upon interferon gamma (IFN-γ) elicited as a result of parasite infection. Plasmodium-infected mice lacking the IFN-γ receptor are not protected. Ex vivo incubation of naive human or mouse macrophages with sera from acutely parasitemic rodents or macaques programs a proinflammatory phenotype dependent on IFN-γ and renders cells resistant to EBOV infection. We conclude that acute Plasmodium infection can safeguard against EBOV by the production of protective IFN-γ. These findings have implications for anti-malaria therapies administered during episodic EBOV outbreaks in Africa.

Kai J Rogers, Olena Shtanko, Rahul Vijay, Laura N Mallinger, Chester J Joyner, Mary R Galinski, Noah S Butler, Wendy Maury. Cell Rep. 2020 Mar 24;30(12):4041-4051.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.02.104.

Trainee Spotlight: Edwin Pierre Louis

Trainee Edwin Pierre Louis

 

Edwin Pierre Louis is a pre-doctoral trainee in the laboratory of Dr. Drew Etheridge. Originally from Haiti, he immigrated to the US to attend the University of Florida (UF), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry Molecular Biology. After earning his degree at UF, Edwin accepted a position as a biological scientist in the UF Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology, with a focus on gene and cell based therapeutic development, where he worked for three years. There, he first discovered his love of host-pathogen interactions as a biological scientist working under the supervision of Dr. Richard Snyder for the component Florida Biologix at this center and later merged to create Brammer Bio which was subsequently acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific. During this time in industry, he realized that to improve his scientific capacities he would need to continue his studies by pursuing a graduate degree. As part of his preparations to apply to a graduate program, he joined the UGA post-baccalaureate PREP program whose mission is to prepare students interested in a graduate degree for the application process. During this time, he was granted the opportunity to join Dr. Michael Terns’ laboratory for a year where he investigated the molecular mechanism of CRISPR-Cas based viral defense in Streptococcus thermophilus as well as prime adaptation events in the type II-A CRISPR-Cas system.

Since attending UGA, Edwin has been awarded both the Gateway to Graduate School Bridge Program and the Graduate Scholars Leadership, Engagement and Development Program (GS LEAD) scholarships sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

What is your research focus and why are you interested in the topic?

Broadly, my key research interests center around how organisms like viruses and parasites manipulate their host cell in order to grow and propagate. My current project is focused on elucidating how the protozoan pathogen Toxoplasma gondii is able to use secreted protein effectors to manipulate its host cells functions.

Why did you choose UGA?

I chose to study at the University of Georgia, in part, because of my excellent post-baccalaureate experience in the PREP program. It was evident from my interactions that UGA excels at fostering a productive relationship between students and faculty. Regardless of any faculty member’s relationship to the students, there was a sustained willingness for faculty to give of their time in order to see the students succeed.  I also decided to pursue my PhD at UGA because of the cutting-edge research and in particular the collection of outstanding parasitologists that is uniquely found in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD).

What are your future professional plans?

As I continue my graduate studies on host pathogen interaction, I plan to do some post-doctoral trainings to augment my apprenticeship and ultimately become an independent scientist to lead my own research group.  I also hope to be able to give back to the local community that has contributed so much to my own personal success by donating my time and knowledge to mentor young budding scientists especially those from underprivileged homes and/or underdeveloped countries.

 

Support trainees like Edwin by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

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The Mitochondrial Calcium Uniporter Interacts with Subunit c of the ATP Synthase of Trypanosomes and Humans

Mitochondrial Ca2+ transport mediated by the uniporter complex (MCUC) plays a key role in the regulation of cell bioenergetics in both trypanosomes and mammals. Here we report that Trypanosoma brucei MCU (TbMCU) subunits interact with subunit c of the mitochondrial ATP synthase (ATPc), as determined by coimmunoprecipitation and split-ubiquitin membrane-based yeast two-hybrid (MYTH) assays. Mutagenesis analysis in combination with MYTH assays suggested that transmembrane helices (TMHs) are determinants of this specific interaction. In situ tagging, followed by immunoprecipitation and immunofluorescence microscopy, revealed that T. brucei ATPc (TbATPc) coimmunoprecipitates with TbMCUC subunits and colocalizes with them to the mitochondria. Blue native PAGE and immunodetection analyses indicated that the TbMCUC is present together with the ATP synthase in a large protein complex with a molecular weight of approximately 900 kDa. Ablation of the TbMCUC subunits by RNA interference (RNAi) significantly increased the AMP/ATP ratio, revealing the downregulation of ATP production in the cells. Interestingly, the direct physical MCU-ATPc interaction is conserved in Trypanosoma cruzi and human cells. Specific interaction between human MCU (HsMCU) and human ATPc (HsATPc) was confirmed in vitro by mutagenesis and MYTH assays and in vivo by coimmunoprecipitation. In summary, our study has identified that MCU complex physically interacts with mitochondrial ATP synthase, possibly forming an MCUC-ATP megacomplex that couples ADP and Pi transport with ATP synthesis, a process that is stimulated by Ca2+ in trypanosomes and human cells.

IMPORTANCE The mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU) is essential for the regulation of oxidative phosphorylation in mammalian cells, and we have shown that in Trypanosoma brucei, the etiologic agent of sleeping sickness, this channel is essential for its survival and infectivity. Here we reveal that that Trypanosoma brucei MCU subunits interact with subunit c of the mitochondrial ATP synthase (ATPc). Interestingly, the direct physical MCU-ATPc interaction is conserved in T. cruzi and human cells.

Guozhong HuangRoberto Docampo. mBio. 2020 Mar 17;11(2). pii: e00268-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00268-20.

Update on Cryptosporidium spp.: highlights from the Seventh International Giardia and Cryptosporidium Conference

While cryptosporidiosis is recognized as being among the most common causes of human parasitic diarrhea in the world, there is currently limited knowledge on Cryptosporidium infection mechanisms, incomplete codification of diagnostic methods, and a need for additional therapeutic options. In response, the Seventh International Giardia and Cryptosporidium Conference (IGCC 2019) was hosted from 23 to 26 June 2019, at the Rouen Normandy University, France. This trusted event brought together an international delegation of researchers to synthesize recent advances and identify key research questions and knowledge gaps. The program of the interdisciplinary conference included all aspects of host-parasite relationships from basic research to applications to human and veterinary medicine, and environmental issues associated with waterborne parasites and their epidemiological consequences. In relation to Cryptosporidium and cryptosporidiosis, the primary research areas for which novel findings and the most impressive communications were presented and discussed included: Cryptosporidium in environmental waters, seafood, and fresh produce; Animal epidemiology; Human cryptosporidiosis and epidemiology; Genomes and genomic evolution encompassing: Comparative genomics of Cryptosporidium spp., Genomic insights into biology, Acquiring and utilizing genome sequences, Genetic manipulation; Host-parasite interaction (immunology, microbiome); and Diagnosis and treatment. High quality presentations discussed at the conference reflected decisive progress and identified new opportunities that will engage investigators and funding agencies to spur future research in a “one health” approach to improve basic knowledge and the clinical and public health management of zoonotic cryptosporidiosis.

Giovanni Widmer, David Carmena, Martin Kváč, Rachel M. Chalmers, Jessica C. Kissinger, Lihua Xiao, Adam Sateriale, Boris Striepen, Fabrice Laurent, Sonia Lacroix-Lamandé, Gilles Gargala and Loïc Favennec. Parasite. 2020;27:14. doi: 10.1051/parasite/2020011.

Battling Malaria

UGA is developing new drugs to fight a lethal parasite. Dennis Kyle discusses what his lab is doing to fight malaria in this brief (2:30) video.

 

HELP BATTLE DEADLY DISEASES

Donate to the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases

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Lexis and Grammar of Mitochondrial RNA Processing in Trypanosomes

Trypanosoma brucei spp. cause African human and animal trypanosomiasis, a burden on health and economy in Africa. These hemoflagellates are distinguished by a kinetoplast nucleoid containing mitochondrial DNAs of two kinds: maxicircles encoding ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) and proteins and minicircles bearing guide RNAs (gRNAs) for mRNA editing. All RNAs are produced by a phage-type RNA polymerase as 3′ extended precursors, which undergo exonucleolytic trimming. Most pre-mRNAs proceed through 3′ adenylation, uridine insertion/deletion editing, and 3′ A/U-tailing. The rRNAs and gRNAs are 3′ uridylated. Historically, RNA editing has attracted major research effort, and recently essential pre- and postediting processing events have been discovered. Here, we classify the key players that transform primary transcripts into mature molecules and regulate their function and turnover.

Inna Aphasizheva, Juan Alfonzo, Jason Carnes, Igor Cestari, Jorge Cruz-Reyes, H. Ulrich Göringer, Stephen Hajduk, Julius Lukeš, Susan Madison-Antenucci, Dmitri A. Maslov, Suzanne M. McDermott, Torsten Ochsenreiter, Laurie K. Read, Reza Salavati, Achim Schnaufer, André Schneider, Larry Simpson, Kenneth Stuart, Vyacheslav Yurchenko, Z. Hong Zhou, Alena Zíková, Liye Zhang, Sara Zimmer, Ruslan Aphasizhev. Trends Parasitol. 2020 Apr;36(4):337-355. doi: 10.1016/j.pt.2020.01.006. Epub 2020 Feb 28.

A CRISPR/Cas9-riboswitch-Based Method for Downregulation of Gene Expression in Trypanosoma cruzi

Few genetic tools were available to work with Trypanosoma cruzi until the recent introduction of the CRISPR/Cas9 technique for gene knockout, gene knock-in, gene complementation, and endogenous gene tagging. Riboswitches are naturally occurring self-cleaving RNAs (ribozymes) that can be ligand-activated. Results from our laboratory recently demonstrated the usefulness of the glmS ribozyme from Bacillus subtilis, which has been shown to control reporter gene expression in response to exogenous glucosamine, for gene silencing in Trypanosoma brucei. In this work we used the CRISPR/Cas9 system for endogenously tagging T. cruzi glycoprotein 72 (TcGP72) and vacuolar proton pyrophosphatase (TcVP1) with the active (glmS) or inactive (M9) ribozyme. Gene tagging was confirmed by PCR and protein downregulation was verified by western blot analyses. Further phenotypic characterization was performed by immunofluorescence analysis and quantification of growth in vitro. Our results indicate that the method was successful in silencing the expression of both genes without the need of glucosamine in the medium, suggesting that T. cruzi produces enough levels of endogenous glucosamine 6-phosphate to stimulate the glmS ribozyme activity under normal growth conditions. This method could be useful to obtain knockdowns of essential genes in T. cruzi and to validate potential drug targets in this parasite.

Noelia Lander, Teresa Cruz-Bustos, and Roberto Docampo. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2020 Feb 27;10:68. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2020.00068. eCollection 2020.