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Category: publications

Pyrophosphate Stimulates the Phosphate-Sodium Symporter of Trypanosoma brucei Acidocalcisomes and Saccharomyces cerevisiae Vacuoles

Inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi) is a by-product of biosynthetic reactions and has bioenergetic and regulatory roles in a variety of cells. Here we show that PPi and other pyrophosphate-containing compounds, including polyphosphate (polyP), can stimulate sodium-dependent depolarization of the membrane potential and Pi conductance in Xenopus oocytes expressing a Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Trypanosoma brucei Na+/Pi symporter. PPi is not taken up by Xenopus oocytes, and deletion of the TbPho91 SPX domain abolished its depolarizing effect. PPi generated outward currents in Na+/Pi-loaded giant vacuoles prepared from wild-type or pho91Δ yeast strains expressing TbPHO91 but not from the pho91Δ strains. Our results suggest that PPi, at physiological concentrations, can function as a signaling molecule releasing Pfrom S. cerevisiae vacuoles and T. brucei acidocalcisomes.

IMPORTANCE Acidocalcisomes, first described in trypanosomes and known to be present in a variety of cells, have similarities with S. cerevisiae vacuoles in their structure and composition. Both organelles share a Na+/Pisymporter involved in Pi release to the cytosol, where it is needed for biosynthetic reactions. Here we show that PPi, at physiological cytosolic concentrations, stimulates the symporter expressed in either Xenopus oocytes or yeast vacuoles via its SPX domain, revealing a signaling role of this molecule.

Evgeniy Potapenko, Ciro D. Cordeiro, Guozhong Huang, Roberto Docampo. 2019. mSphere; 4(2). pii: e00045-19. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00045-19.

Diagnosis of Schistosoma mansoni infections: what are the choices in Brazilian low-endemic areas?

The population of Brazil is currently characterised by many individuals harbouring low-intensity Schistosoma mansoni infections. The Kato-Katz technique is the diagnostic method recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess these infections, but this method is not sensitive enough in the context of low egg excretion. In this regard, potential alternatives are being employed to overcome the limits of the Kato-Katz technique. In the present review, we evaluated the performance of parasitological and immunological approaches adopted in Brazilian areas. Currently, the diagnostic choices involve a combination of strategies, including the utilisation of antibody methods to screen individuals and then subsequent confirmation of positive cases by intensive parasitological investigations.


Vanessa Silva-Moraes, Lisa M Shollenberger, Liliane Maria Vidal Siqueira, William Castro-Borges, Donald A Harn, Rafaella Fortini Queiroz e Grenfell, Ana Lucia Teles Rabello, Paulo Marcos Zech Coelho. 2019. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2019 Mar 28;114:e180478. doi: 10.1590/0074-02760180478.

A Toxoplasma Prolyl Hydroxylase Mediates Oxygen Stress Responses by Regulating Translation Elongation

As the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii disseminates through its host, it responds to environmental changes by altering its gene expression, metabolism, and other processes. Oxygen is one variable environmental factor, and properly adapting to changes in oxygen levels is critical to prevent the accumulation of reactive oxygen species and other cytotoxic factors. Thus, oxygen-sensing proteins are important, and among these, 2-oxoglutarate-dependent prolyl hydroxylases are highly conserved throughout evolution. Toxoplasmaexpresses two such enzymes, TgPHYa, which regulates the SCF-ubiquitin ligase complex, and TgPHYb. To characterize TgPHYb, we created a Toxoplasma strain that conditionally expresses TgPHYb and report that TgPHYb is required for optimal parasite growth under normal growth conditions. However, exposing TgPHYb-depleted parasites to extracellular stress leads to severe decreases in parasite invasion, which is likely due to decreased abundance of parasite adhesins. Adhesin protein abundance is reduced in TgPHYb-depleted parasites as a result of inactivation of the protein synthesis elongation factor eEF2 that is accompanied by decreased rates of translational elongation. In contrast to most other oxygen-sensing proteins that mediate cellular responses to low O2, TgPHYb is specifically required for parasite growth and protein synthesis at high, but not low, O2 tensions as well as resistance to reactive oxygen species. In vivo, reduced TgPHYb expression leads to lower parasite burdens in oxygen-rich tissues. Taken together, these data identify TgPHYb as a sensor of high O2 levels, in contrast to TgPHYa, which supports the parasite at low O2

IMPORTANCE Because oxygen plays a key role in the growth of many organisms, cells must know how much oxygen is available. O2-sensing proteins are therefore critical cellular factors, and prolyl hydroxylases are the best-studied type of O2-sensing proteins. In general, prolyl hydroxylases trigger cellular responses to decreased oxygen availability. But, how does a cell react to high levels of oxygen? Using the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, we discovered a prolyl hydroxylase that allows the parasite to grow at elevated oxygen levels and does so by regulating protein synthesis. Loss of this enzyme also reduces parasite burden in oxygen-rich tissues, indicating that sensing both high and low levels of oxygen impacts the growth and physiology of Toxoplasma.

Celia Florimond, Charlotte Cordonnier, Rahil Taujale, Hanke van der Wel, Natarajan Kannan, Christopher M. West, Ira J. Blader. 2019. MBio.;10(2). pii: e00234-19. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00234-19.

Field evaluation of malaria malachite green loop-mediated isothermal amplification in health posts in Roraima state, Brazil

enrolled patietns and sample processing
Fig. 1 Summary of enrolled patients and sample processing


Microscopic detection of malaria parasites is the standard method for clinical diagnosis of malaria in Brazil. However, malaria epidemiological surveillance studies specifically aimed at the detection of low-density infection and asymptomatic cases will require more sensitive and field-usable tools. The diagnostic accuracy of the colorimetric malachite green, loop-mediated, isothermal amplification (MG-LAMP) assay was evaluated in remote health posts in Roraima state, Brazil.


Study participants were prospectively enrolled from health posts (healthcare-seeking patients) and from nearby villages (healthy participants) in three different study sites. The MG-LAMP assay and microscopy were performed in the health posts. Two independent readers scored the MG-LAMP tests as positive (blue/green) or negative (clear). Sensitivity and specificity of local microscopy and MG-LAMP were calculated using results of PET-PCR as a reference.


A total of 91 participants were enrolled. There was 100% agreement between the two MG-LAMP readers (Kappa = 1). The overall sensitivity and specificity of MG-LAMP were 90.0% (95% confidence interval (CI) 76.34-97.21%) and 94% (95% CI 83.76-98.77%), respectively. The sensitivity and specificity of local microscopy were 83% (95% CI 67.22-92.66%) and 100% (95% CI 93.02-100.00%), respectively. PET-PCR detected six mixed infections (infection with both Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax); two of these were also detected by MG-LAMP and one by microscopy. Microscopy did not detect any Plasmodium infection in the 26 healthy participants; MG-LAMP detected Plasmodium in five of these and PET-PCR assay detected infection in three. Overall, performing the MG-LAMP in this setting did not present any particular challenges.


MG-LAMP is a sensitive and specific assay that may be useful for the detection of malaria parasites in remote healthcare settings. These findings suggest that it is possible to implement simple molecular tests in facilities with limited resources.

Heather M. Kudyba, Jaime Louzada, Dragan Ljolje, Karl A. Kudyba, Vasant Muralidharan, Joseli Oliveira-Ferreira, and Naomi W. Lucchi. 2019. Malar J. 2019 Mar 25;18(1):98. doi: 10.1186/s12936-019-2722-1.

Lysyl-tRNA synthetase as a drug target in malaria and cryptosporidiosis

Malaria and cryptosporidiosis, caused by apicomplexan parasites, remain major drivers of global child mortality. New drugs for the treatment of malaria and cryptosporidiosis, in particular, are of high priority; however, there are few chemically validated targets. The natural product cladosporin is active against blood- and liver-stage Plasmodium falciparum and Cryptosporidium parvum in cell-culture studies. Target deconvolution in P. falciparum has shown that cladosporin inhibits lysyl-tRNA synthetase (PfKRS1). Here, we report the identification of a series of selective inhibitors of apicomplexan KRSs. Following a biochemical screen, a small-molecule hit was identified and then optimized by using a structure-based approach, supported by structures of both PfKRS1 and C. parvum KRS (CpKRS). In vivo proof of concept was established in an SCID mouse model of malaria, after oral administration (ED90 = 1.5 mg/kg, once a day for 4 d). Furthermore, we successfully identified an opportunity for pathogen hopping based on the structural homology between PfKRS1 and CpKRS. This series of compounds inhibit CpKRS and C. parvum and Cryptosporidium hominis in culture, and our lead compound shows oral efficacy in two cryptosporidiosis mouse models. X-ray crystallography and molecular dynamics simulations have provided a model to rationalize the selectivity of our compounds for PfKRS1 and CpKRS vs. (human) HsKRS. Our work validates apicomplexan KRSs as promising targets for the development of drugs for malaria and cryptosporidiosis.

Beatriz Baragaña, Barbara Forte, Ryan Choi, Stephen Nakazawa Hewitt, Juan A. Bueren-Calabuig, João Pedro Pisco, Caroline Peet, David M. Dranow, David A. Robinson, Chimed Jansen, Neil R. Norcross, Sumiti Vinayak, Mark Anderson, Carrie F. Brooks, Caitlin A. Cooper, Sebastian Damerow, Michael Delves, Karen Dowers, James Duffy, Thomas E. Edwards, Irene Hallyburton, Benjamin G. Horst, Matthew A. Hulverson, Liam Ferguson, María Belén Jiménez-Díaz, Rajiv S. Jumani, Donald D. Lorimer, Melissa S. Love, Steven Maher, Holly Matthews, Case W. McNamara, Peter Miller, Sandra O’Neill, Kayode K. Ojo, Maria Osuna-Cabello, Erika Pinto, John Post, Jennifer Riley, Matthias Rottmann, Laura M. Sanz, Paul Scullion, Arvind Sharma, Sharon M. Shepherd, Yoko Shishikura, Frederick R. C. Simeons, Erin E. Stebbins, Laste Stojanovski, Ursula Straschil, Fabio K. Tamaki, Jevgenia Tamjar, Leah S. Torrie, Amélie Vantaux, Benoît Witkowski, Sergio Wittlin, Manickam Yogavel, Fabio Zuccotto, Iñigo Angulo-Barturen, Robert Sinden, Jake Baum, Francisco-Javier Gamo, Pascal Mäser, Dennis E. Kyle, Elizabeth A. Winzeler, Peter J. Myler, Paul G. Wyatt, David Floyd, David Matthews, Amit Sharma, Boris Striepen, Christopher D. Huston, David W. Gray, Alan H. Fairlamb, Andrei V. Pisliakov, Chris Walpole, Kevin D. Read, Wesley C. Van Voorhis, and Ian H. Gilbert. 2019. PNAS,

Limited genetic variability of Cytauxzoon felis apical membrane antigen-1 (ama1) from domestic cats and bobcats


Cytauxzoon felis is a tick-transmitted apicomplexan that causes cytauxzoonosis in domestic cats (Felis catus). Even with intensive care, the mortality rate of acute cytauxzoonosis approaches 40% in domestic cats, while bobcats (Lynx rufus), the natural intermediate host of C. felis, remain clinically asymptomatic. However, multiple reports of domestic cats surviving acute disease without any treatment exist. One hypothesis for survival of these cats is infection with unique C. felis genotypes of lower pathogenicity. Prior studies have identified genetically distinct C. felis isolates containing polymorphisms within internal transcribed spacer regions (ITS) of the rRNA operon. However, these polymorphisms do not correlate with the clinical outcome of cytauxzoonosis, and so additional genetic markers are needed to test this hypothesis. We selected C. felis apical membrane antigen-1 (ama1) as a potential genetic marker of differential pathogenicity. AMA1 is a vaccine candidate for relatives of C. felis within Plasmodium spp.; however its historically high level of genetic polymorphism has resulted in escape from vaccine-induced immunity. While such diversity has hindered vaccine development, the expected polymorphism within the ama1 gene may be useful to evaluate population genetics.


A 677 bp sequence of the C. felis ama1 gene was PCR-amplified from 84 domestic cats and 9 bobcats and demonstrated 99.9% sequence identity across all samples. A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) was identified in domestic cats and bobcats with evidence for co-infection with both genotypes identified in two domestic cats. The prevalence of the two genotypes varied with geographical distribution in domestic cats. Nucleotide diversity (π) and haplotype diversity (H) were calculated for C. felis ama1 and ama1 of related apicomplexans to assess genetic diversity. Based on these values (π = 0.00067 and H = 0.457), the diversity of the C. felis ama1 gene region analyzed is considerably lower than what is documented in related apicomplexans.


In surprising contrast to related apicomplexans, our results support that the sequence of the C. felis ama1 gene is highly conserved. While lack of genetic diversity limits utility of C. felis AMA1 as a genetic marker for clinical outcome, it supports further investigation as a vaccine candidate for cytauxzoonosis.

Jaime L. Tarigo, Lisa S. Kelly, Holly M. Brown and David S. Peterson. 2019. Parasites & Vectors; 12:115.

Genome Editing by CRISPR/Cas9 in Trypanosoma cruzi

The genetic manipulation of the human parasite Trypanosoma cruzi has been significantly improved since the implementation of the CRISPR/Cas9 system for genome editing in this organism. The system was initially used for gene knockout in T. cruzi, later on for endogenous gene tagging and more recently for gene complementation. Mutant cell lines obtained by CRISPR/Cas9 have been used for the functional characterization of proteins in different stages of this parasite’s life cycle, including infective trypomastigotes and intracellular amastigotes. In this chapter we describe the methodology to achieve genome editing by CRISPR/Cas9 in T. cruzi. Our method involves the utilization of a template cassette (donor DNA) to promote double-strand break repair by homologous directed repair (HDR). In this way, we have generated homogeneous populations of genetically modified parasites in 4–5 weeks without the need of cell sorting, selection of clonal populations, or insertion of more than one resistance marker to modify both alleles of the gene. The methodology has been organized according to three main genetic purposes: gene knockout, gene complementation of knockout cell lines generated by CRISPR/Cas9, and C-terminal tagging of endogenous genes in T. cruzi. In addition, we refer to the specific results that have been published using each one of these strategies.


Noelia Lander, Miguel A. Chiurillo, Roberto Docampo. 2019. Methods Mol Biol. 2019;1955:61-76. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-9148-8_5

Serological proteomic screening and evaluation of a recombinant egg antigen for the diagnosis of low-intensity Schistosoma mansoni infections in endemic area in Brazil


Despite decades of use of control programs, schistosomiasis remains a global public health problem. To further reduce prevalence and intensity of infection, or to achieve the goal of elimination in low-endemic areas, there needs to be better diagnostic tools to detect low-intensity infections in low-endemic areas in Brazil. The rationale for development of new diagnostic tools is that the current standard test Kato-Katz (KK) is not sensitive enough to detect low-intensity infections in low-endemic areas. In order to develop new diagnostic tools, we employed a proteomics approach to identify biomarkers associated with schistosome-specific immune responses in hopes of developing sensitive and specific new methods for immunodiagnosis.



Immunoproteomic analyses were performed on egg extracts of Schistosoma mansoni using pooled sera from infected or non-infected individuals from a low-endemic area of Brazil. Cross reactivity with other soil-transmitted helminths (STH) was determined using pooled sera from individuals uniquely infected with different helminths. Using this approach, we identified 23 targets recognized by schistosome acute and chronic sera samples. To identify immunoreactive targets that were likely glycan epitopes, we compared these targets to the immunoreactivity of spots treated with sodium metaperiodate oxidation of egg extract. This treatment yielded 12/23 spots maintaining immunoreactivity, suggesting that they were protein epitopes. From these 12 spots, 11 spots cross-reacted with sera from individuals infected with other STH and 10 spots cross-reacted with the negative control group. Spot number 5 was exclusively immunoreactive with sera from S. mansoni-infected groups in native and deglycosylated conditions and corresponds to Major Egg Antigen (MEA). We expressed MEA as a recombinant protein and showed a similar recognition pattern to that of the native protein via western blot. IgG-ELISA gave a sensitivity of 87.10% and specificity of 89.09% represented by area under the ROC curve of 0.95. IgG-ELISA performed better than the conventional KK (2 slides), identifying 56/64 cases harboring 1-10 eggs per gram of feces that were undiagnosed by KK parasitological technique.



The serological proteome approach was able to identify a new diagnostic candidate. The recombinant egg antigen provided good performance in IgG-ELISA to detect individuals with extreme low-intensity infections (1 egg per gram of feces). Therefore, the IgG-ELISA using this newly identified recombinant MEA can be a useful tool combined with other techniques in low-endemic areas to determine the true prevalence of schistosome infection that is underestimated by the KK method. Further, to overcome the complexity of ELISA in the field, a second generation of antibody-based rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) can be developed.


Vanessa Silva-Moraes, Lisa Marie Shollenberger, William Castro-Borges, Ana Lucia Teles Rabello, Donald A. Harn, Lia Carolina Soares Medeiros, Wander de Jesus Jeremias, Liliane Maria Vidal Siqueira, Caroline Stephane Salviano Pereira, Maria Luysa Camargos Pedrosa, Nathalie Bonatti Franco Almeida, Aureo Almeida, Jose Roberto Lambertucci, Nídia Francisca de Figueiredo Carneiro, Paulo Marcos Zech Coelho, Rafaella Fortini Queiroz Grenfell. 2019. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Further insights of selenium-containing analogues of WC-9 against Trypanosoma cruzi

Graphical abstract

As a continuation of our project aimed at searching for new chemotherapeutic agents against American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), new selenocyanate derivatives were designed, synthesized and biologically evaluated against the clinically more relevant dividing form of Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of this illness. In addition, in order to establish the role of each part of the selenocyanate moiety, different derivatives, in which the selenium atom or the cyano group were absent, were conceived, synthesized and biologically evaluated. In addition, in order to study the optimal position of the terminal phenoxy group, new regioisomers of WC-9 were synthesized and evaluated against T. cruzi. Finally, the resolution of a racemic mixture of a very potent conformationally rigid analogue of WC-9 was accomplished and further tested as growth inhibitors of T. cruzi proliferation. The results provide further insight into the role of the selenocyanate group in its antiparasitic activity.


María N. Chao, María V. Lorenzo-Ocampo, Sergio H. Szajnman, Roberto Docampo, Juan B. Rodriguez. 2019. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry.

Prime-Boost Vaccine Regimen for SjTPI and SjC23 Schistosome Vaccines, Increases Efficacy in Water Buffalo in a Field Trial in China

Schistosomiasis remains a serious zoonotic disease in China and the Philippines. Water buffalo and cattle account for the majority of transmission. Vaccination of water buffalo is considered a key strategy to reduce disease prevalence. Previously, we showed that vaccination of water buffalo with SjC23 or SjCTPI plasmid DNA vaccines, induced 50% efficacy to challenge infection. Here, we evaluated several parameters to determine if we can develop a two dose vaccine that maintains the efficacy of the three dose vaccine. We performed four trials evaluating: (1) lab produced vs. GLP grade vaccines, (2) varying the time between prime and boost, (3) the influence of an IL-12 adjuvant, and (4) a two dose heterologous (DNA-protein) prime-boost. We found the source of the DNA vaccines did not matter, nor did increasing the interval between prime and boost. Elimination of the IL-12 plasmid lowered homologous DNA-DNA vaccine efficacy. A major finding was that the heterologous prime boost improved vaccine efficacy, with the prime-boost regimen incorporating both antigens providing a 55% reduction in adult worms and 53% reduction in liver eggs. Vaccinated buffalo produced vaccine-specific antibody responses. These trials suggest that highly effective vaccination against schistosomes can be achieved using a two dose regimen. No adjuvants were used with the protein boost, and the potential that addition of adjuvant to the protein boost to further increase efficacy should be evaluated. These results suggest that use of these two schistosome vaccines can be part of an integrated control strategy to reduce transmission of schistosomiasis in Asia.


Akram A. Da’Dara, Changlin Li, Xinling Yu, Mao Zheng, Jie Zhou, Lisa M. Shollenberger, Yue-sheng Li and Donald A. Harn. 2019. Front. Immunol.