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Category: publications

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.

An Endoplasmic Reticulum CREC Family Protein Regulates the Egress Proteolytic Cascade in Malaria Parasites

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is thought to play an essential role during egress of malaria parasites because the ER is assumed to be required for biogenesis and secretion of egress-related organelles. However, no proteins localized to the parasite ER have been shown to play a role in egress of malaria parasites. In this study, we generated conditional mutants of the Plasmodium falciparum endoplasmic reticulum-resident calcium-binding protein (PfERC), a member of the CREC family. Knockdown of the PfERC gene showed that this gene is essential for asexual growth of P. falciparum Analysis of the intraerythrocytic life cycle revealed that PfERC is essential for parasite egress but is not required for protein trafficking or calcium storage. We found that PfERC knockdown prevents the rupture of the parasitophorous vacuole membrane. This is because PfERC knockdown inhibited the proteolytic maturation of the subtilisin-like serine protease SUB1. Using double mutant parasites, we showed that PfERC is required for the proteolytic maturation of the essential aspartic protease plasmepsin X, which is required for SUB1 cleavage. Further, we showed that processing of substrates downstream of the proteolytic cascade is inhibited by PfERC knockdown. Thus, these data establish that the ER-resident CREC family protein PfERC is a key early regulator of the egress proteolytic cascade of malaria parasites.

IMPORTANCE The divergent eukaryotic parasites that cause malaria grow and divide within a vacuole inside a host cell, which they have to break open once they finish cell division. The egress of daughter parasites requires the activation of a proteolytic cascade, and a subtilisin-like protease initiates a proteolytic cascade to break down the membranes blocking egress. It is assumed that the parasite endoplasmic reticulum plays a role in this process, but the proteins in this organelle required for egress remain unknown. We have identified an early ER-resident regulator essential for the maturation of the recently discovered aspartic protease in the egress proteolytic cascade, plasmepsin X, which is required for maturation of the subtilisin-like protease. Conditional loss of PfERC results in the formation of immature and inactive egress proteases that are unable to breakdown the vacuolar membrane barring release of daughter parasites.

Manuel A. Fierro, Beejan Asady, Carrie F. Brooks, David W. Cobb, Alejandra Villegas, Silvia N. J. Moreno, Vasant Muralidharan. mBio. 2020 Feb 25;11(1). pii: e03078-19. doi: 10.1128/mBio.03078-19.

Identification of a novel base J binding protein complex involved in RNA polymerase II transcription termination in trypanosomes

Base J, β-D-glucosyl-hydroxymethyluracil, is a modification of thymine DNA base involved in RNA Polymerase (Pol) II transcription termination in kinetoplastid protozoa. Little is understood regarding how specific thymine residues are targeted for J-modification or the mechanism of J regulated transcription termination. To identify proteins involved in J-synthesis, we expressed a tagged version of the J-glucosyltransferase (JGT) in Leishmania tarentolae, and identified four co-purified proteins by mass spectrometry: protein phosphatase (PP1), a homolog of Wdr82, a potential PP1 regulatory protein (PNUTS) and a protein containing a J-DNA binding domain (named JBP3). Gel shift studies indicate JBP3 is a J-DNA binding protein. Reciprocal tagging, co-IP and sucrose gradient analyses indicate PP1, JGT, JBP3, Wdr82 and PNUTS form a multimeric complex in kinetoplastids, similar to the mammalian PTW/PP1 complex involved in transcription termination via PP1 mediated dephosphorylation of Pol II. Using RNAi and analysis of Pol II termination by RNA-seq and RT-PCR, we demonstrate that ablation of PNUTS, JBP3 and Wdr82 lead to defects in Pol II termination at the 3’-end of polycistronic gene arrays in Trypanosoma brucei. Mutants also contain increased antisense RNA levels upstream of transcription start sites, suggesting an additional role of the complex in regulating termination of bi-directional transcription. In addition, PNUTS loss causes derepression of silent Variant Surface Glycoprotein genes involved in host immune evasion. Our results suggest a novel mechanistic link between base J and Pol II polycistronic transcription termination in kinetoplastids.

Rudo Kieft, Yang Zhang, Alexandre P. Marand, Jose Dagoberto Moran, Robert Bridger, Lance Wells, Robert J. Schmitz, Robert Sabatini. PLoS Genet. 2020 Feb 21;16(2):e1008390. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008390.

In vitro screening of the open source MMV Malaria and Pathogen Boxes to discover novel compounds with activity against Balamuthia mandrillaris

Balamuthia mandrillaris, is an under reported pathogenic free-living amoeba that causes Balamuthia amoebic encephalitis (BAE) and cutaneous skin infections. Although cutaneous infections are not typically lethal, BAE with or without cutaneous involvement usually is fatal. This is due to lack of drugs that are efficacious and that can cross the blood-brain barrier. We aimed to discover new leads for drug discovery by screening the open source MMV Malaria and MMV Pathogen boxes (800 compounds total). From an initial single point screen at 1 and 10 μM, we identified 54 hits that significantly inhibited the growth of B. mandrillaris in vitro. Hits were re-confirmed in quantitative dose response assays and 23 compounds (42.6 %) were confirmed with activity greater than miltefosine, the current standard of care.

Christopher A. RiceLuis Fernando Lares-JiménezFernando Lares-VillaDennis E. Kyle. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2020 Feb 18. pii: AAC.02233-19. doi: 10.1128/AAC.02233-19

Synthesis and in vitro evaluation of new 5-substituted 6-nitroimidazooxazoles as antikinetoplastid agents

In continuation of our pharmacomodulation work on the nitroimidazooxazole series, we report the synthesis of new 5-substituted 6-nitroimidazooxazole derivatives. Our aim was to evaluate how functionalization of the 5-position of the 6-nitroimidazooxazole scaffold affects antileishmanial and antitrypanosomal in vitro activities. Twenty-one original compounds were synthesized and evaluated for their in vitro antileishmanial (L. donovani) and antitrypanosomal (T. cruzi) properties. Pallado-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions were used to introduce an aryl or ethynyl aryl substituent in 5-position from a 5-brominated-6-nitroimidazooxazole starting product. Unfortunately, the first series of compounds bearing an aryl group in 5-position presented limited in vitro activities against L. donovani and T. cruzi, with IC50 > 10 μM (vs 0.18 μM and 2.31 μM for the reference drugs amphotericin B and benznidazole respectively). Interestingly, the second series of compounds bearing an ethynyl aryl substituent in 5-position showed more promising, particularly against T. cruzi. Compounds 6a6b6c6g and 6h had better activity than the reference drug benznidazole (0.92 μM ≤ IC50 ≤ 2.18 μM vs IC50 = 2.31 μM), whereas the non-functionalized 2-methyl-6-nitro-2,3-dihydroimidazo [2,1-b]oxazole 2 was not active against T. cruzi (IC50 > 10 μM).

Fanny Mathias, AnitaCohen, Youssef Kabri, Núria Waddington Negrão, Maxime D.Crozet, RobertoDocampo, Nadine Azas, Patrice Vanelle. Eur J Med Chem. 2020 Feb 14;191:112146. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2020.112146

An adaptable soft-mold embossing process for fabricating optically-accessible, microfeature-based culture systems and application toward liver stage antimalarial compound testing

Advanced cell culture methods for modeling organ-level structure have been demonstrated to replicate in vivo conditions more accurately than traditional in vitro cell culture. Given that the liver is particularly important to human health, several advanced culture methods have been developed to experiment with liver disease states, including infection with Plasmodium parasites, the causative agent of malaria. These models have demonstrated that intrahepatic parasites require functionally stable hepatocytes to thrive and robust characterization of the parasite populations’ response to investigational therapies is dependent on high-content and high-resolution imaging (HC/RI). We previously reported abiotic confinement extends the functional longevity of primary hepatocytes in a microfluidic platform and set out to instill confinement in a microtiter plate platform while maintaining optical accessibility for HC/RI; with an end-goal of producing an improved P. vivax liver stage culture model. We developed a novel fabrication process in which a PDMS soft mold embosses hepatocyte-confining microfeatures into polystyrene, resulting in microfeature-based hepatocyte confinement (μHEP) slides and plates. Our process was optimized to form both microfeatures and culture wells in a single embossing step, resulting in a 100 μm-thick bottom ideal for HC/RI, and was found inexpensively amendable to microfeature design changes. Microfeatures improved intrahepatic parasite infection rates and μHEP systems were used to reconfirm the activity of reference antimalarials in phenotypic dose-response assays. RNAseq of hepatocytes in μHEP systems demonstrated microfeatures sustain hepatic differentiation and function, suggesting broader utility for preclinical hepatic assays; while our tailorable embossing process could be repurposed for developing additional organ models.

Steven P. Maher, Amy J. Conway, Alison Roth, Swamy R. Adapa, Phillip Cualing, Chiara Andolina, James Hsiao, Jessica Turgeon, Victor Chaumeau, Myles Johnson, Chris Palmiotti, Naresh Singh, Samantha J. Barnes, Raahil Patel, Virginia Van Grod, Robert Carter, H.-C. Steve Sun, Jetsumon Sattabongkot, Brice Campo, François Nosten, Wajeeh M. Saadi, John H. Adams, Rays H. Y. Jiang, and Dennis E. Kyle. Lab Chip. 2020 Feb 14. doi: 10.1039/c9lc00921c

Survey of Schistosomiasis in Saint Lucia: Evidence for Interruption of Transmission

Saint Lucia at one time had levels of schistosomiasis prevalence and morbidity as high as many countries in Africa. However, as a result of control efforts and economic development, including more widespread access to sanitation and safe water, schistosomiasis on the island has practically disappeared. To evaluate the current status of schistosomiasis in Saint Lucia, we conducted a nationally representative school-based survey of 8-11-year-old children for prevalence of Schistosoma mansoni infections using circulating antigen and specific antibody detection methods. We also conducted a questionnaire about available water sources, sanitation, and contact with fresh water. The total population of 8-11-year-old children on Saint Lucia was 8,985; of these, 1,487 (16.5%) provided urine for antigen testing, 1,455 (16.2%) provided fingerstick blood for antibody testing, and 1,536 (17.1%) answered the questionnaire. Although a few children were initially low positives by antigen or antibody detection methods, none could be confirmed positive by follow-up testing. Most children reported access to clean water and sanitary facilities in or near their homes and 48% of the children reported contact with fresh water. Together, these data suggest that schistosomiasis transmission has been interrupted on Saint Lucia. Additional surveys of adults, snails, and a repeat survey among school-age children will be necessary to verify these findings. However, in the same way that research on Saint Lucia generated the data leading to use of mass drug administration for schistosomiasis control, the island may also provide the information needed for guidelines to verify interruption of schistosomiasis transmission.

Janice Gaspard, Madelaine M. Usey, Merlene Fredericks-James, Maria J. Sanchez, Lydia Atkins, Carl H. Campbell Jr., Paul L. A. M. Corstjens, Govert J. van Dam, Daniel G. Colley and William Evan Secor. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020 Feb 10. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.19-0904

Gene content evolution in the arthropods



Arthropods comprise the largest and most diverse phylum on Earth and play vital roles in nearly every ecosystem. Their diversity stems in part from variations on a conserved body plan, resulting from and recorded in adaptive changes in the genome. Dissection of the genomic record of sequence change enables broad questions regarding genome evolution to be addressed, even across hyper-diverse taxa within arthropods.


Using 76 whole genome sequences representing 21 orders spanning more than 500 million years of arthropod evolution, we document changes in gene and protein domain content and provide temporal and phylogenetic context for interpreting these innovations. We identify many novel gene families that arose early in the evolution of arthropods and during the diversification of insects into modern orders. We reveal unexpected variation in patterns of DNA methylation across arthropods and examples of gene family and protein domain evolution coincident with the appearance of notable phenotypic and physiological adaptations such as flight, metamorphosis, sociality, and chemoperception.


These analyses demonstrate how large-scale comparative genomics can provide broad new insights into the genotype to phenotype map and generate testable hypotheses about the evolution of animal diversity.

Thomas GWC, Dohmen E, Hughes DST, Murali SC, Poelchau M, Glastad K, Anstead CA, Ayoub NA, Batterham P, Bellair M, Binford GJ, Chao H, Chen YH, Childers C, Dinh H, Doddapaneni HV, Duan JJ, Dugan S, Esposito LA, Friedrich M, Garb J, Gasser RB, Goodisman MAD, Gundersen-Rindal DE, Han Y, Handler AM, Hatakeyama M, Hering L, Hunter WB, Ioannidis P, Jayaseelan JC, Kalra D, Khila A, Korhonen PK Lee CE, Lee SL, Li Y, Lindsey ARI, Mayer G, McGregor AP, McKenna DD, Misof B, Munidasa M, Munoz-Torres M, Muzny DM, Niehuis O, Osuji-Lacy N, Palli SR, Panfilio KA, Pechmann M, Perry T, Peters RS, Poynton HC, Prpic NM, Qu J, Rotenberg D, Schal C, Schoville SD, Scully ED, Skinner E, Sloan DB, Stouthamer R, Strand MR, Szucsich NU, Wijeratne A, Young ND, Zattara EE, Benoit JB, Zdobnov EM, Pfrender ME, Hackett KJ, Werren JH, Worley KC, Gibbs RA, Chipman AD, Waterhouse RM, Bornberg-Bauer E, Hahn MW, Richards S. Genome Biol. 2020 Jan 23;21(1):15. doi: 10.1186/s13059-019-1925-7.

Predaceous Toxorhynchites mosquitoes require a living gut microbiota to develop

Most species of mosquitoes are detritivores that feed on decaying plant and animal materials in their aquatic environment. Studies of several detritivorous mosquito species indicate that they host relatively low diversity communities of microbes that are acquired from the environment while feeding. Our recent results also indicate that detritivorous species normally require a living gut microbiota to grow beyond the first instar. Less well known is that some mosquitoes, including those belonging to the genus Toxorhynchites, are predators that feed on other species of mosquitoes and nektonic prey. In this study, we asked whether predaceous Toxorhynchites amboinensis larvae still require living microbes in their gut in order to develop. Using the detritivorous mosquito Aedes aegypti as prey, we found that T. amboinensis larvae harbour bacterial communities that are highly similar to that of their prey. Functional assays showed that T. amboinensis first instars provided axenic (i.e. bacteria-free) prey failed to develop, while two bacterial species present in gnotobiotic (i.e. colonized by one or more known bacterial species) prey successfully colonized the T. amboinensis gut and rescued development. Axenic T. amboinensis larvae also displayed defects in growth consistent with previously identified roles for microbe-mediated gut hypoxia in nutrient acquisition and assimilation in A. aegypti. Collectively, these results support a conserved role for gut microbes in regulating the development of mosquitoes with different feeding strategies.

Kerri L. Coon, Luca Valzania, Mark R. Brown and Michael R. Strand. Proc Biol Sci. 2020 Jan 29;287(1919):20192705. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.2705

Identification and Localization of the First Known Proteins of the Trypanosoma cruzi Cytostome Cytopharynx Endocytic Complex

The etiological agent of Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, is an obligate intracellular parasite that infects an estimated 7 million people in the Americas, with an at-risk population of 70 million. Despite its recognition as the highest impact parasitic infection of the Americas, Chagas disease continues to receive insufficient attention and resources in order to be effectively combatted. Unlike the other parasitic trypanosomatids that infect humans (Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania spp.), T. cruzi retains an ancestral mode of phagotrophic feeding via an endocytic organelle known as the cytostome-cytopharynx complex (SPC). How this tubular invagination of the plasma membrane functions to bring in nutrients is poorly understood at a mechanistic level, partially due to a lack of knowledge of the protein machinery specifically targeted to this structure. Using a combination of CRISPR/Cas9 mediated endogenous tagging, fluorescently labeled overexpression constructs and endocytic assays, we have identified the first known SPC targeted protein (CP1). The CP1 labeled structure co-localizes with endocytosed protein and undergoes disassembly in infectious forms and reconstitution in replicative forms. Additionally, through the use of immunoprecipitation and mass spectrometry techniques, we have identified two additional CP1-associated proteins (CP2 and CP3) that also target to this endocytic organelle. Our localization studies using fluorescently tagged proteins and surface lectin staining have also allowed us, for the first time, to specifically define the location of the intriguing pre-oral ridge (POR) surface prominence at the SPC entrance through the use of super-resolution light microscopy. This work is a first glimpse into the proteome of the SPC and provides the tools for further characterization of this enigmatic endocytic organelle. A better understanding of how this deadly pathogen acquires nutrients from its host will potentially direct us toward new therapeutic targets to combat infection.

Nathan Michael Chasen, Isabelle Coppens and Ronald Drew Etheridge. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2020 Jan 17;9:445. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2019.00445. eCollection 2019.