The genomes of kinetoplastids are organized into polycistronic transcription units that are flanked by a modified DNA base (base J, beta-D-glucosyl-hydroxymethyluracil). Previous work established a role of base J in promoting RNA polymerase II (Pol II) termination in Leishmania major and Trypanosoma brucei. We recently identified a PJW/PP1 complex in Leishmania containing a J-binding protein (JBP3), PP1 phosphatase 1, PP1 interactive-regulatory protein (PNUTS) and Wdr82. Analyses suggested the complex regulates transcription termination by recruitment to termination sites via JBP3-base J interactions and dephosphorylation of proteins, including Pol II, by PP1. However, we never addressed the role of PP1, the sole catalytic component, in Pol II transcription termination. We now demonstrate that deletion of the PP1 component of the PJW/PP1 complex in L. major, PP1-8e, leads to readthrough transcription at the 3′-end of polycistronic gene arrays. We show PP1-8e has in vitro phosphatase activity that is lost upon mutation of a key catalytic residue and associates with PNUTS via the conserved RVxF motif. Additionally, purified PJW complex with associated PP1-8e, but not complex lacking PP1-8e, led to dephosphorylation of Pol II, suggesting a direct role of PNUTS/PP1 holoenzymes in regulating transcription termination via dephosphorylating Pol II in the nucleus.
SQ109 is an anti-tubercular drug candidate that has completed Phase IIb/III clinical trials for tuberculosis and has also been shown to exhibit potent in vitro efficacy against protozoan parasites including Leishmania and Trypanosoma cruzi spp. However, its in vivo efficacy against protozoa has not been reported. Here, we evaluated the activity of SQ109 in mouse models of Leishmania, Trypanosoma spp. as well as Toxoplasma infection. In the T. cruzi mouse model, 80% of SQ109-treated mice survived at 40 days post-infection. Even though SQ109 did not cure all mice, these results are of interest since they provide a basis for future testing of combination therapies with the azole posaconazole, which acts synergistically with SQ109 in vitro. We also found that SQ109 inhibited the growth of Toxoplasma gondii in vitro with an IC50 of 1.82 µM and there was an 80% survival in mice treated with SQ109, whereas all untreated animals died 10 days post-infection. Results with Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania donovani infected mice were not promising with only moderate efficacy. Since SQ109 is known to be extensively metabolized in animals, we investigated the activity in vitro of SQ109 metabolites. Among 16 metabolites, six mono-oxygenated forms were found active across the tested protozoan parasites, and there was a ~6× average decrease in activity of the metabolites as compared to SQ109 which is smaller than the ~25× found with mycobacteria.
Lathosterol oxidase (LSO) catalyzes the formation of the C-5–C-6 double bond in the synthesis of various types of sterols in mammals, fungi, plants, and protozoa. In Leishmania parasites, mutations in LSO or other sterol biosynthetic genes are associated with amphotericin B resistance. To investigate the biological roles of sterol C-5–C-6 desaturation, we generated an LSO-null mutant line (lso−) in Leishmania major, the causative agent for cutaneous leishmaniasis. lso− parasites lacked the ergostane-based sterols commonly found in wild-type L. major and instead accumulated equivalent sterol species without the C-5–C-6 double bond. These mutant parasites were replicative in culture and displayed heightened resistance to amphotericin B. However, they survived poorly after reaching the maximal density and were highly vulnerable to the membrane-disrupting detergent Triton X-100. In addition, lso− mutants showed defects in regulating intracellular pH and were hypersensitive to acidic conditions. They also had potential alterations in the carbohydrate composition of lipophosphoglycan, a membrane-bound virulence factor in Leishmania. All these defects in lso− were corrected upon the restoration of LSO expression. Together, these findings suggest that the C-5–C-6 double bond is vital for the structure of the sterol core, and while the loss of LSO can lead to amphotericin B resistance, it also makes Leishmania parasites vulnerable to biologically relevant stress.
IMPORTANCE Sterols are essential membrane components in eukaryotes, and sterol synthesis inhibitors can have potent effects against pathogenic fungi and trypanosomatids. Understanding the roles of sterols will facilitate the development of new drugs and counter drug resistance. LSO is required for the formation of the C-5–C-6 double bond in the sterol core structure in mammals, fungi, protozoans, plants, and algae. Functions of this C-5–C-6 double bond are not well understood. In this study, we generated and characterized a lathosterol oxidase-null mutant in Leishmania major. Our data suggest that LSO is vital for the structure and membrane-stabilizing functions of leishmanial sterols. In addition, our results imply that while mutations in lathosterol oxidase can confer resistance to amphotericin B, an important antifungal and antiprotozoal agent, the alteration in sterol structure leads to significant defects in stress response that could be exploited for drug development.
Yu Ning, Cheryl Frankfater, Fong-Fu Hsu, Rodrigo P Soares, Camila A Cardoso, Paula M Nogueira, Noelia Marina Lander, Roberto Docampo, Kai Zhang. mSphere. 2020 Jul 1;5(4):e00380-20. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00380-20.
Antimicrobial treatment failure threatens our ability to control infections. In addition to antimicrobial resistance, treatment failures are increasingly understood to derive from cells that survive drug treatment without selection of genetically heritable mutations. Parasitic protozoa, such as Plasmodium species that cause malaria, Toxoplasma gondii and kinetoplastid protozoa, including Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmaniaspp., cause millions of deaths globally. These organisms can evolve drug resistance and they also exhibit phenotypic diversity, including the formation of quiescent or dormant forms that contribute to the establishment of long-term infections that are refractory to drug treatment, which we refer to as ‘persister-like cells’. In this Review, we discuss protozoan persister-like cells that have been linked to persistent infections and discuss their impact on therapeutic outcomes following drug treatment.
Elvis Ofori Ameyaw is a Fulbright Scholar visiting M. Belen Cassera‘s laboratory in the department of molecular biology and biochemistry. He is a senior lecturer, Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Vice-Dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences in the College of Health and Allied Sciences at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Dr. Ameyaw holds a B. Pharm and Ph.D. in Pharmacology. His research focuses on natural product drug discovery for infectious, in particular, malaria and Leishmania, and inflammatory diseases. At the University of Georgia, he is using in vitro techniques to screen some natural products isolates from plants that are traditionally used to treat malaria in Ghana.
“UGA is globally known for excellent research and education and my host scientist, Prof. M. Belen Cassera has created an envious and reputable niche in natural product research,” said Dr. Ameyaw.
The availability of seminars and other opportunities to interact with leading scientists also factored into Dr. Ameyaw’s decision to come to UGA.
“The research staff at UGA are very supportive and willing to share ideas.” said Dr. Ameyaw.
Athens reminds him of the college town of Cape Coast where he resides and works in Ghana.
“The city makes me feel at home away from home.”
Read more about Dr. Cassera’s natural products research.