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.

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