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Category: publications

The Toxoplasma oxygen-sensing protein, TgPhyA, is required for resistance to interferon gamma-mediated nutritional immunity in mice

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Fig 1. TgPHYa knockout in type II strain parasites.
Fig 1. TgPHYa knockout in type II strain parasites.


As Toxoplasma gondii disseminates through its host, the parasite must sense and adapt to its environment and scavenge nutrients. Oxygen (O2) is one such environmental factor and cytoplasmic prolyl 4-hydroxylases (PHDs) are evolutionarily conserved O2 cellular sensing proteins that regulate responses to changes in O2 availability. Toxoplasma expresses 2 PHDs. One of them, TgPHYa hydroxylates SKP1, a subunit of the SCF-E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. In vitro, TgPHYa is important for growth at low O2 levels. However, studies have yet to examine the role that TgPHYa or any other pathogen-encoded PHD plays in virulence and disease. Using a type II ME49 Toxoplasma TgPHYa knockout, we report that TgPHYa is important for Toxoplasma virulence and brain cyst formation in mice. We further find that while TgPHYa mutant parasites can establish an infection in the gut, they are unable to efficiently disseminate to peripheral tissues because the mutant parasites are unable to survive within recruited immune cells. Since this phenotype was abrogated in IFNγ knockout mice, we studied how TgPHYa mediates survival in IFNγ-treated cells. We find that TgPHYa is not required for release of parasite-encoded effectors into host cells that neutralize anti-parasitic processes induced by IFNγ. In contrast, we find that TgPHYa is required for the parasite to scavenge tryptophan, which is an amino acid whose levels are decreased after IFNγ up-regulates the tryptophan-catabolizing enzyme, indoleamine dioxygenase (IDO). We further find, relative to wild-type mice, that IDO knockout mice display increased morbidity when infected with TgPHYa knockout parasites. Together, these data identify the first parasite mechanism for evading IFNγ-induced nutritional immunity and highlight a novel role that oxygen-sensing proteins play in pathogen growth and virulence.

Charlotte Cordonnier, Msano Mandalasi, Jason Gigley, Elizabeth A Wohlfert, Christopher M West, Ira J Blader. PLoS Biol. 2024 Jun 10;22(6):e3002690. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002690.

The first Cryptosporidium meeting: a concerted effort to fight cryptosporidiosis

The first biennial Cryptosporidium meeting was held on 10–12 March 2024 in Philadelphia, PA, USA. The organizers, Dr Boris Striepen and Dr Christopher Hunter, welcomed more than 130 attendees to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. The meeting opened with a panel discussion featuring a diverse group of researchers, clinicians, non-profit and industry partners who offered unique insights into the problems of cryptosporidiosis. Seven research themed sessions (‘Impact of cryptosporidiosis’, ‘Population genetics’, ‘Genomics and new tools for research and translation’, ‘Parasite cell and developmental biology’, ‘Host–parasite interaction and immunity’, ‘Cryptosporidium metabolism and emerging targets’, and ‘Immunity to Cryptosporidium and vaccines’), as well as two poster sessions completed the meeting. A farewell dinner in the domed Asia gallery of the Penn Museum was organized for all the attendees. The meeting was graciously supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Novartis, Zoetis, and several centers and departments of the University of Pennsylvania. In this TrendsTalk, we invited the session chairs to highlight the innovative research and discoveries presented during the inaugural Cryptosporidium meeting.

Wes van Voorhis, Joyce Siwila, Jessica C Kissinger, Natalia Bayona Vásquez, Guy Robinson, Rodrigo Baptista, Asis Khan, Amandine Guérin, Yi-Wei Chang, Zannatun Noor, N Bishara Marzook, Sumiti Vinayak, Sam Arnold, Chelsea Marie, Robert K M Choy, Mattie C Pawlowic, Rajiv S Jumani. Trends Parasitol. 2024 Jun;40(6):431-438. doi: 10.1016/

Cryptosporidium Genomics – Current Understanding, Advances, and Applications

Genome assembly impacts annotation quality, gene family member estimates, and genetic variation analyses.
Genome assembly impacts annotation quality, gene family member estimates, and genetic variation analyses.

Purpose of review: Here we highlight the significant contribution that genomics-based approaches have had on the field of Cryptosporidium research and the insights these approaches have generated into Cryptosporidium biology and transmission.

Recent findings: There are advances in genomics, genetic manipulation, gene expression, and single-cell technologies. New and better genome sequences have revealed variable sub-telomeric gene families and genes under selection. RNA expression data now include single-cell and post-infection time points. These data have provided insights into the Cryptosporidium life cycle and host-pathogen interactions. Antisense and ncRNA transcripts are abundant. The critical role of the dsRNA virus is becoming apparent.

Summary: The community’s ability to identify genomic targets in the abundant, yet still lacking, collection of genomic data, combined with their increased ability to assess function via gene knock-out, is revolutionizing the field. Advances in the detection of virulence genes, surveillance, population genomics, recombination studies, and epigenetics are upon us.

Fiifi Agyabeng-Dadzie, Rui Xiao, Jessica C Kissinger. Curr Trop Med Rep. 2024;11(2):92-103. doi: 10.1007/s40475-024-00318-y.


The Toxoplasma gondii F-Box Protein L2 Functions as a Repressor of Stage Specific Gene Expression

Fig 5. TgFBXL2 localizes to a perinucleolar compartment.
Fig 5. TgFBXL2 localizes to a perinucleolar compartment.


Toxoplasma gondii is a foodborne pathogen that can cause severe and life-threatening infections in fetuses and immunocompromised patients. Felids are its only definitive hosts, and a wide range of animals, including humans, serve as intermediate hosts. When the transmissible bradyzoite stage is orally ingested by felids, they transform into merozoites that expand asexually, ultimately generating millions of gametes for the parasite sexual cycle. However, bradyzoites in intermediate hosts differentiate exclusively to disease-causing tachyzoites, which rapidly disseminate throughout the host. Though tachyzoites are well-studied, the molecular mechanisms governing transitioning between developmental stages are poorly understood. Each parasite stage can be distinguished by a characteristic transcriptional signature, with one signature being repressed during the other stages. Switching between stages require substantial changes in the proteome, which is achieved in part by ubiquitination. F-box proteins mediate protein poly-ubiquitination by recruiting substrates to SKP1, Cullin-1, F-Box protein E3 ubiquitin ligase (SCF-E3) complexes. We have identified an F-box protein named Toxoplasma gondii F-Box Protein L2 (TgFBXL2), which localizes to distinct perinucleolar sites. TgFBXL2 is stably engaged in an SCF-E3 complex that is surprisingly also associated with a COP9 signalosome complex that negatively regulates SCF-E3 function. At the cellular level, TgFBXL2-depleted parasites are severely defective in centrosome replication and daughter cell development. Most remarkable, RNAseq data show that TgFBXL2 conditional depletion induces the expression of stage-specific genes including a a large cohort of genes necessary for sexual commitment. Together, these data suggest that TgFBXL2 is a latent guardian of stage specific gene expression in Toxoplasma and poised to remove conflicting proteins in response to an unknown trigger of development.

Carlos G Baptista, Sarah Hosking, Elisabet Gas-Pascual, Loic Ciampossine, Steven Abel, Mohamed-Ali Hakimi, Victoria Jeffers, Karine Le Roch, Christopher M West, Ira J Blader. PLoS Pathog. 2024 May 30;20(5):e1012269. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1012269.

A Drug Repurposing Approach Reveals Targetable Epigenetic Pathways in Plasmodium vivax Hypnozoites

Hypnozonticidal hit detection and confirmation.
Hypnozonticidal hit detection and confirmation.

Radical cure of Plasmodium vivax malaria must include elimination of quiescent ‘hypnozoite’ forms in the liver; however, the only FDA-approved treatments are contraindicated in many vulnerable populations. To identify new drugs and drug targets for hypnozoites, we screened the Repurposing, Focused Rescue, and Accelerated Medchem (ReFRAME) library and a collection of epigenetic inhibitors against P. vivax liver stages. From both libraries, we identified inhibitors targeting epigenetics pathways as selectively active against P. vivax and P. cynomolgi hypnozoites. These include DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) inhibitors as well as several inhibitors targeting histone post-translational modifications. Immunofluorescence staining of Plasmodium liver forms showed strong nuclear 5-methylcystosine signal, indicating liver stage parasite DNA is methylated. Using bisulfite sequencing, we mapped genomic DNA methylation in sporozoites, revealing DNA methylation signals in most coding genes. We also demonstrated that methylation level in proximal promoter regions as well as in the first exon of the genes may affect, at least partially, gene expression in P. vivax. The importance of selective inhibitors targeting epigenetic features on hypnozoites was validated using MMV019721, an acetyl-CoA synthetase inhibitor that affects histone acetylation and was previously reported as active against P. falciparum blood stages. In summary, our data indicate that several epigenetic mechanisms are likely modulating hypnozoite formation or persistence and provide an avenue for the discovery and development of improved radical cure antimalarials.

S. P. Maher, M. A. Bakowski, A. Vantaux, E. L. Flannery, C. Andolina, M. Gupta, Y. Antonova-Koch, M. Argomaniz, M. Cabrera-Mora, B. Campo, A. T. Chao, A. K. Chatterjee, W. T. Cheng, E. Chuenchob, C. A. Cooper, K. Cottier, M. R. Galinski, A. Harupa-Chung, H. Ji, S. B. Joseph, T. Lenz, S. Lonardi, J. Matheson, S. A. Mikolajczak, T. Moeller, A. Orban, V. Padín-Irizarry, K. Pan, J. Péneau, J. Prudhomme, C. Roesch, A. A. Ruberto, S. S. Sabnis, C. L. Saney, J. Sattabongkot, S. Sereshki, S. Suriyakan, R. Ubalee, Y. Wang, P. Wasisakun, J. Yin, J. Popovici, C. W. McNamara, C. J. Joyner, F. Nosten, B. Witkowski, K. G. Le Roch, D. E. Kyle. 2024. eLife13:RP98221,


Temporal gene expression during asexual development of the apicomplexan Sarcocystis neurona

Fig 1 Progression of the schizont stages during the intracellular development of Sarcocystis neurona expressing yellow fluorescent protein. Post-invasion, the merozoites convert into schizonts that progressively develop into early-, mid-, and late-schizonts while undergoing a form of asexual reproduction called endopolygeny. In the final step in endopolygeny, the mature schizont forms 64 haploid merozoites fully equipped to egress and invade new host cells. S. neurona, Sn; DAPI-stained host cell nuclei, HCN.
Fig 1 Progression of the schizont stages during the intracellular development of Sarcocystis neurona expressing yellow fluorescent protein. Post-invasion, the merozoites convert into schizonts that progressively develop into early-, mid-, and late-schizonts while undergoing a form of asexual reproduction called endopolygeny. In the final step in endopolygeny, the mature schizont forms 64 haploid merozoites fully equipped to egress and invade new host cells. S. neurona, Sn; DAPI-stained host cell nuclei, HCN.

Asexual replication in the apicomplexan Sarcocystis neurona involves two main developmental stages: the motile extracellular merozoite and the sessile intracellular schizont. Merozoites invade host cells and transform into schizonts that undergo replication via endopolygeny to form multiple (64) daughter merozoites that are invasive to new host cells. Given that the capabilities of the merozoite vary significantly from the schizont, the patterns of transcript levels throughout the asexual lifecycle were determined and compared in this study. RNA-Seq data were generated from extracellular merozoites and four intracellular schizont development time points. Of the 6,938 genes annotated in the S. neurona genome, 6,784 were identified in the transcriptome. Of these, 4,111 genes exhibited significant differential expression between the merozoite and at least one schizont development time point. Transcript levels were significantly higher for 2,338 genes in the merozoite and 1,773 genes in the schizont stages. Included in this list were genes encoding the secretory pathogenesis determinants (SPDs), which encompass the surface antigen and SAG-related sequence (SAG/SRS) and the secretory organelle proteins of the invasive zoite stage (micronemes, rhoptries, and dense granules). As anticipated, many of the S. neurona SPD gene transcripts were abundant in merozoites. However, several SPD transcripts were elevated in intracellular schizonts, suggesting roles unrelated to host cell invasion and the initial establishment of the intracellular niche. The hypothetical genes that are potentially unique to the genus Sarcocystis are of particular interest. Their conserved expression patterns are instructive for future investigations into the possible functions of these putative Sarcocystis-unique genes.

Importance: The genus Sarcocystis is an expansive clade within the Apicomplexa, with the species S. neurona being an important cause of neurological disease in horses. Research to decipher the biology of S. neurona and its host-pathogen interactions can be enhanced by gene expression data. This study has identified conserved apicomplexan orthologs in S. neurona, putative Sarcocystis-unique genes, and gene transcripts abundant in the merozoite and schizont stages. Importantly, we have identified distinct clusters of genes with transcript levels peaking during different intracellular schizont development time points, reflecting active gene expression changes across endopolygeny. Each cluster also has subsets of transcripts with unknown functions, and investigation of these seemingly Sarcocystis-unique transcripts will provide insights into the interesting biology of this parasite genus.

Sriveny Dangoudoubiyam, Jamie K Norris, Sivaranjani Namasivayam, Rodrigo de Paula Baptista, Naila Cannes do Nascimento, Joseph Camp, Christopher L Schardl, Jessica C Kissinger, Daniel K Howe. mSphere. 2024 May 29:e0011124. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00111-24.

Protein phosphatase PP1 regulation of RNA polymerase II transcription termination and allelic exclusion of VSG genes in trypanosomes

graphical abstract

The genomes of Leishmania and trypanosomes are organized into polycistronic transcription units flanked by a modified DNA base J involved in promoting RNA polymerase II (Pol II) termination. We recently characterized a Leishmania complex containing a J-binding protein, PP1 protein phosphatase 1, and PP1 regulatory protein (PNUTS) that controls transcription termination potentially via dephosphorylation of Pol II by PP1. While T. brucei contains eight PP1 isoforms, none purified with the PNUTS complex, complicating the analysis of PP1 function in termination. We now demonstrate that the PP1-binding motif of TbPNUTS is required for function in termination in vivo and that TbPP1-1 modulates Pol II termination in T. brucei and dephosphorylation of the large subunit of Pol II. PP1-1 knock-down results in increased cellular levels of phosphorylated RPB1 accompanied by readthrough transcription and aberrant transcription of the chromosome by Pol II, including Pol I transcribed loci that are typically silent, such as telomeric VSG expression sites involved in antigenic variation. These results provide important insights into the mechanism underlying Pol II transcription termination in primitive eukaryotes that rely on polycistronic transcription and maintain allelic exclusion of VSG genes.

Rudo Kieft, Yang Zhang, Haidong Yan, Robert J Schmitz, Robert Sabatini. Nucleic Acids Res. 2024 May 23:gkae392. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkae392.

The influence of oviposition status on measures of transmission potential in malaria-infected mosquitoes depends on sugar availability

graphical abstract

Background: Like other oviparous organisms, the gonotrophic cycle of mosquitoes is not complete until they have selected a suitable habitat to oviposit. In addition to the evolutionary constraints associated with selective oviposition behavior, the physiological demands relative to an organism’s oviposition status also influence their nutrient requirement from the environment. Yet, studies that measure transmission potential (vectorial capacity or competence) of mosquito-borne parasites rarely consider whether the rates of parasite replication and development could be influenced by these constraints resulting from whether mosquitoes have completed their gonotrophic cycle.

Methods: Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes were infected with Plasmodium berghei, the rodent analog of human malaria, and maintained on 1% or 10% dextrose and either provided oviposition sites (‘oviposited’ herein) to complete their gonotrophic cycle or forced to retain eggs (‘non-oviposited’). Transmission potential in the four groups was measured up to 27 days post-infection as the rates of (i) sporozoite appearance in the salivary glands (‘extrinsic incubation period’ or EIP), (ii) vector survival and (iii) sporozoite densities.

Results: In the two groups of oviposited mosquitoes, rates of sporozoite appearance and densities in the salivary glands were clearly dependent on sugar availability, with shorter EIP and higher sporozoite densities in mosquitoes fed 10% dextrose. In contrast, rates of appearance and densities in the salivary glands were independent of sugar concentrations in non-oviposited mosquitoes, although both measures were slightly lower than in oviposited mosquitoes fed 10% dextrose. Vector survival was higher in non-oviposited mosquitoes.

Conclusions: Costs to parasite fitness and vector survival were buffered against changes in nutritional availability from the environment in non-oviposited but not oviposited mosquitoes. Taken together, these results suggest vectorial capacity for malaria parasites may be dependent on nutrient availability and oviposition/gonotrophic status and, as such, argue for more careful consideration of this interaction when estimating transmission potential. More broadly, the complex patterns resulting from physiological (nutrition) and evolutionary (egg-retention) trade-offs described here, combined with the ubiquity of selective oviposition behavior, implies the fitness of vector-borne pathogens could be shaped by selection for these traits, with implications for disease transmission and management. For instance, while reducing availability of oviposition sites and environmental sources of nutrition are key components of integrated vector management strategies, their abundance and distribution are under strong selection pressure from the patterns associated with climate change.

Justine C Shiau, Nathan Garcia-Diaz, Dennis E Kyle, Ashutosh K Pathak. Parasit Vectors. 2024 May 23;17(1):236. doi: 10.1186/s13071-024-06317-2.

Hepatocytes and the art of killing Plasmodium softly

Figure 1. The gap in our understanding of how hepatocytes eliminate Plasmodium.
Figure 1. The gap in our understanding of how hepatocytes eliminate Plasmodium.


The Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria undergo asymptomatic development in the parenchymal cells of the liver, the hepatocytes, prior to infecting erythrocytes and causing clinical disease. Traditionally, hepatocytes have been perceived as passive bystanders that allow hepatotropic pathogens such as Plasmodium to develop relatively unchallenged. However, now there is emerging evidence suggesting that hepatocytes can mount robust cell-autonomous immune responses that target Plasmodium, limiting its progression to the blood and reducing the incidence and severity of clinical malaria. Here we discuss our current understanding of hepatocyte cell-intrinsic immune responses that target Plasmodium and how these pathways impact malaria.

Camila Marques-da-Silva, Clyde Schmidt-Silva, Samarchith P Kurup. Trends Parasitol. 2024 May 6:S1471-4922(24)00086-2. doi: 10.1016/

Identification of a viral gene essential for the genome replication of a domesticated endogenous virus in ichneumonid parasitoid wasps

Fig 6. RNAi knockdown of U16.
RNAi knockdown of U16.


Thousands of endoparasitoid wasp species in the families Braconidae and Ichneumonidae harbor “domesticated endogenous viruses” (DEVs) in their genomes. This study focuses on ichneumonid DEVs, named ichnoviruses (IVs). Large quantities of DNA-containing IV virions are produced in ovary calyx cells during the pupal and adult stages of female wasps. Females parasitize host insects by injecting eggs and virions into the body cavity. After injection, virions rapidly infect host cells which is followed by expression of IV genes that promote the successful development of wasp offspring. IV genomes consist of two components: proviral segment loci that serve as templates for circular dsDNAs that are packaged into capsids, and genes from an ancestral virus that produce virions. In this study, we generated a chromosome-scale genome assembly for Hyposotor didymator that harbors H. didymator ichnovirus (HdIV). We identified a total of 67 HdIV loci that are amplified in calyx cells during the wasp pupal stage. We then focused on an HdIV gene, U16, which is transcribed in calyx cells during the initial stages of replication. Sequence analysis indicated that U16 contains a conserved domain in primases from select other viruses. Knockdown of U16 by RNA interference inhibited virion morphogenesis in calyx cells. Genome-wide analysis indicated U16 knockdown also inhibited amplification of HdIV loci in calyx cells. Altogether, our results identified several previously unknown HdIV loci, demonstrated that all HdIV loci are amplified in calyx cells during the pupal stage, and showed that U16 is required for amplification and virion morphogenesis.

Ange Lorenzi, Fabrice Legeai, Véronique Jouan, Pierre-Alain Girard, Michael R Strand, Marc Ravallec, Magali Eychenne, Anthony Bretaudeau, Stéphanie Robin, Jeanne Rochefort, Mathilde Villegas, Gaelen R Burke, Rita Rebollo, Nicolas Nègre, Anne-Nathalie Volkoff. PLoS Pathog. 2024 Apr 25;20(4):e1011980. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1011980.