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Tag: Toxoplasma gondii

In Vivo Efficacy of SQ109 against Leishmania donovani, Trypanosoma spp. and Toxoplasma gondii and In Vitro Activity of SQ109 Metabolites

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.

Kyung-Hwa Baek, Trong-Nhat Phan, Satish R Malwal, Hyeryon Lee, Zhu-Hong Li, Silvia N J Moreno, Eric Oldfield, Joo Hwan No. Biomedicines. 2022 Mar 14;10(3):670. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines10030670.

A plastid two-pore channel essential for inter-organelle communication and growth of Toxoplasma gondii

Two-pore channels (TPCs) are a ubiquitous family of cation channels that localize to acidic organelles in animals and plants to regulate numerous Ca2+-dependent events. Little is known about TPCs in unicellular organisms despite their ancient origins. Here, we characterize a TPC from Toxoplasma gondii, the causative agent of toxoplasmosis. TgTPC is a member of a novel clad of TPCs in Apicomplexa, distinct from previously identified TPCs and only present in coccidians. We show that TgTPC localizes not to acidic organelles but to the apicoplast, a non-photosynthetic plastid found in most apicomplexan parasites. Conditional silencing of TgTPC resulted in progressive loss of apicoplast integrity, severely affecting growth and the lytic cycle. Isolation of TPC null mutants revealed a selective role for TPCs in replication independent of apicoplast loss that required conserved residues within the pore-lining region. Using a genetically-encoded Ca2+ indicator targeted to the apicoplast, we show that Ca2+ signals deriving from the ER but not from the extracellular space are selectively transmitted to the lumen. Deletion of the TgTPC gene caused reduced apicoplast Ca2+ uptake and membrane contact site formation between the apicoplast and the ER. Fundamental roles for TPCs in maintaining organelle integrity, inter-organelle communication and growth emerge.

Zhu-Hong Li, Thayer P King, Lawrence Ayong, Beejan Asady, Xinjiang Cai, Taufiq Rahman, Stephen A Vella, Isabelle Coppens, Sandip Patel, Silvia N J Moreno. Nat Commun. 2021 Oct 4;12(1):5802. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-25987-5

Calcium signaling through a Transient Receptor Channel is important for Toxoplasma gondii growth

Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels participate in calcium ion (Ca2+) influx and intracellular Ca2+ release. TRP channels have not been studied in Toxoplasma gondii or any other apicomplexan parasite. In this work we characterize TgGT1_310560, a protein predicted to possess a TRP domain (TgTRPPL-2) and determined its role in Ca2+ signaling in T. gondii, the causative agent of toxoplasmosis. TgTRPPL-2 localizes to the plasma membrane and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of T. gondii. The ΔTgTRPPL-2 mutant was defective in growth and cytosolic Ca2+ influx from both extracellular and intracellular sources. Heterologous expression of TgTRPPL-2 in HEK-3KO cells allowed its functional characterization. Patching of ER-nuclear membranes demonstrates that TgTRPPL-2 is a non-selective cation channel that conducts Ca2+. Pharmacological blockers of TgTRPPL-2 inhibit Ca2+ influx and parasite growth. This is the first report of an apicomplexan ion channel that conducts Ca2+ and may initiate a Ca2+ signaling cascade that leads to the stimulation of motility, invasion and egress. TgTRPPL-2 is a potential target for combating Toxoplasmosis.

Karla Marie Marquez-Nogueras, Myriam Andrea Hortua Triana, Nathan M Chasen, Ivana Y Kuo, Silvia NJ Moreno. Elife. 2021 Jun 9;10:e63417. doi: 10.7554/eLife.63417.

Ca2+ entry at the plasma membrane and uptake by acidic stores is regulated by the activity of the V‐H+‐ATPase in Toxoplasma gondii

Ca2+ is a universal intracellular signal that regulates many cellular functions. In Toxoplasma gondii, the controlled influx of extracellular and intracellular Ca2+ into the cytosol initiates a signaling cascade that promotes pathogenic processes like tissue destruction and dissemination. In this work we studied the role of proton transport in cytosolic Ca2+ homeostasis and the initiation of Ca2+ signaling. We used a T. gondii mutant of the V-ATPase, a pump previously shown to transport protons to the extracellular medium, control intracellular pH and membrane potential and we show that proton gradients are important for maintaining resting cytosolic Ca2+ at physiological levels and for Ca2+ influx. Proton transport was also important for Ca2+ storage by acidic stores and, unexpectedly, the endoplasmic reticulum. Proton transport impacted the amount of polyphosphate (polyP), a phosphate polymer that binds Ca2+ and concentrate in acidocalcisomes. This was supported by the co-localization of the vacuolar transporter chaperone 4 (VTC4), the catalytic subunit of the VTC complex that synthesizes polyP, with the V-ATPase in acidocalcisomes. Our work show that proton transport regulate plasma membrane Ca2+ transport and control acidocalcisome polyP and Ca2+ content impacting Ca2+ signaling and downstream stimulation of motility and egress in T. gondii.

Andrew J Stasic, Eric J Dykes, Ciro D Cordeiro, Stephen A Vella, Mojtaba S Fazli, Shannon Quinn, Roberto Docampo, Silvia N J Moreno. Mol Microbiol. 2021 Apr 1. doi: 10.1111/mmi.14722

Silvia Moreno elected as American Academy of Microbiology Fellow

Silvia Moreno
Photo credit: Dorothy Kozlowski

University of Georgia researcher, a member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and a Distinguished Research Professor in cellular biology, has been elected as a 2021 American Academy of Microbiology Fellow. Holding courtesy appointments in microbiology and infectious diseases, Silvia N. Moreno also serves as director of the NIH-funded Training in Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases program.

“This is an honor that represents the hard work and commitment of the members of my lab, past and present,” said Moreno.

Her research focuses on the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause encephalitis and cardiogenic shock in immunocompromised patients and can result in devastating birth defects in children born from infected pregnant women. Almost a third of the human population is infected. The parasite also infects cats, dogs and cattle.

In particular, Moreno’s laboratory is interested in discovering unique metabolic differences that can be used as targets for chemotherapy as current treatment options are for only one phase of the disease and have harmful side effects.

In 2018, she was named a corresponding member of the Latin American Academy of Sciences. Since 2015, she has been leading the Training in Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases program which is funded by an NIH T32 training grant. In the most recent competing renewal of the grant, CTEGD was awarded $1.9 million.

Under Moreno’s leadership the program has expanded to provide fellowships to seven graduate students and two post-doctoral fellows, a mini-sabbatical program for faculty members of local colleges with a higher proportion of diversity students to offer undergraduates and faculty research experience, and organize a number of professional development workshops.

Moreno joins more than 2,500 AAM fellows who are elected through a highly selective, peer-reviewed process, based on their record of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced the field of microbiology. Of the 150 researchers nominated this year, only 65 were elected to the 2021 Fellowship Class.

The role of potassium and host calcium signaling in Toxoplasma gondii egress

Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite and replicates inside a parasitophorous vacuole (PV) within the host cell. The membrane of the PV (PVM) contains pores that permits for equilibration of ions and small molecules between the host cytosol and the PV lumen. Ca2+ signaling is universal and both T. gondii and its mammalian host cell utilize Ca2+ signals to stimulate diverse cellular functions. Egress of T. gondii from host cells is an essential step for the infection cycle of T. gondii, and a cytosolic Ca2+ increase initiates a Ca2+ signaling cascade that culminates in the stimulation of motility and egress. In this work we demonstrate that intracellular T. gondii tachyzoites are able to take up Ca2+ from the host cytoplasm during host cell signaling events. Both intracellular and extracellular Ca2+ sources are important in reaching a threshold of parasite cytosolic Ca2+ needed for successful egress. Two peaks of Ca2+ were observed in egressing single parasites with the second peak resulting from Ca2+ entry. We patched infected host cells to allow the delivery of precise concentrations of Ca2+ for the stimulation of motility and egress. Using this approach of patching infected host cells, allowed us to determine that increasing the host cytosolic Ca2+ to a specific concentration can trigger egress, which is further accelerated by diminishing the concentration of potassium (K+).

Stephen A Vella, Christina A Moore, Zhu-Hong Li, Miryam A Hortua Triana, Evgeniy Potapenko, Silvia N J Moreno. Cell Calcium. 2021 Jan 19;94:102337. doi: 10.1016/j.ceca.2020.102337

The nucleocytosolic O-fucosyltransferase Spindly affects protein expression and virulence in Toxoplasma gondii

Once considered unusual, nucleocytoplasmic glycosylation is now recognized as a conserved feature of eukaryotes. While in animals O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) modifies thousands of intracellular proteins, the human pathogen Toxoplasma gondii transfers a different sugar, fucose, to proteins involved in transcription, mRNA processing and signaling. Knockout experiments showed that TgSPY, an ortholog of plant SPINDLY and paralog of host OGT, is required for nuclear O-fucosylation. Here we verify that TgSPY is the nucleocytoplasmic O-fucosyltransferase (OFT) by 1) complementation with TgSPY-MYC3, 2) its functional dependence on amino acids critical for OGT activity, and 3) its ability to O-fucosylate itself and a model substrate and to specifically hydrolyze GDP-Fuc. While many of the endogenous proteins modified by O-Fuc are important for tachyzoite fitness, O-fucosylation by TgSPY is not essential. Growth of Δspy tachyzoites in fibroblasts is modestly affected, despite marked reductions in the levels of ectopically-expressed proteins normally modified with O-fucose. Intact TgSPY-MYC3 localizes to the nucleus and cytoplasm, whereas catalytic mutants often displayed reduced abundance. Δspy tachyzoites of a luciferase-expressing type II strain exhibited infection kinetics in mice similar to wild type but increased persistence in the chronic brain phase, potentially due to an imbalance of regulatory protein levels. The modest changes in parasite fitness in vitro and in mice, despite profound effects on reporter protein accumulation, and the characteristic punctate localization of O-fucosylated proteins, suggest that TgSPY controls the levels of proteins to be held in reserve for response to novel stresses.

Giulia Bandini, Carolina Agop-Nersesian, Hanke van der Wel, Msano Mandalasi , Hyun W Kim, Christopher M West, John Samuelson. J Biol Chem. 2020 Nov 6;jbc.RA120.015883. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.015883.

Trainee Spotlight: Megna Tiwari

Megna Tiwari 

Megna Tiwari is a second-year Ph.D. trainee in the laboratory of Diego Huet. She is originally from Newport Beach, California and completed her undergraduate degree in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). While at UCR, she worked as an undergraduate researcher in the fungal genomics lab of Dr. Jason Stajich for 2 years and co-founded Women in STEM Engaging Riverside (WISER). After graduation, she worked as a blood bank lab technician at LifeStream Blood Bank where she screened for and routinely found blood samples positive for understudied pathogenic parasites. Her fascination with pathogenic parasites led her to seek a thesis-based Master of Science in Biology at California State University, Fullerton under the supervision of Dr. Veronica Jimenez. During this period, Megna worked on understanding the functional and structural relationship of mechanosensitive ion channels found in T. cruzi and cemented her passion for molecular parasitology.

Megna has been awarded a CTEGD T32 Training Fellowship. She currently serves as Vice-president of CTEGD’s Graduate Student Association and New Student Liaison for the Department of Cellular Biology’s Graduate Student Association.

Why did you choose UGA? 

My master’s research in parasitology reaffirmed my passion for research in unconventional parasitic pathogens. Therefore, I applied for doctoral programs that would allow me to remain in the field of cell and molecular parasitology and the CTEGD at UGA was the perfect place for me to obtain the best possible training as a parasitologist.

What is your research focus/project and why are you interested in the topic? 

The over-reaching research goal of the Huet lab is the investigation of the highly divergent metabolic adaptations of apicomplexans. My research interests in the lab have led me to study the role of the ATP synthase in the apicomplexan Toxoplasma gondii, the causative agent of toxoplasmosis. For my project, I am examining the role of apicomplexan-specific ATP synthase subunits and how they might contribute to the regulation of the ATP synthase function in the parasite.

What are your future professional plans?  

Following graduation from UGA, I hope to continue on for a postdoctoral research position in parasitology.

What do you hope to do for your capstone experience? 

For my capstone experience, I want to gain an outside perspective and understanding of foreign research culture that I can apply to my own research when I return to the CTEGD. 

What is your favorite thing about UGA and/or Athens? 

At the CTEGD, I love the collaborative nature. If I am trying to learn a new technique or understand new concepts, I am able to easily walk down the hall to a neighboring lab and get advice. In Athens, for entertainment, I love the endless craft beer scene and I love all the greenery and being able to hike gaps of the Appalachian trail!


Support trainees like Megna by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

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Biochemical and biophysical analyses of hypoxia sensing prolyl hydroxylases from Dictyostelium discoideum and Toxoplasma gondii

In animals, the response to chronic hypoxia is mediated by prolyl-hydroxylases (PHDs) that regulate the levels of hypoxia inducible transcription factor a (HIFα). PHD homologues exist in other types of eukaryotes and prokaryotes where they act on non-HIF substrates. To gain insight into the factors underlying different PHD substrates and properties, we carried out biochemical and biophysical studies on PHD homologues from the slime mold, Dictyostelium discoideum, and the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, both lacking HIF. The respective prolyl-hydroxylases (DdPhyA and TgPhyA) catalyze prolyl-hydroxylation of S-Phase Kinase Associated Protein 1 (Skp1), a reaction enabling adaptation to different dioxygen availability. Assays with full length Skp1 substrates reveal substantial differences in the kinetic properties of DdPhyA and TgPhyA, both with respect to each other and compared with human PHD2; consistent with cellular studies TgPhyA is more active at low dioxygen concentrations than DdPhyA. TgSkp1 is a DdPhyA substrate and DdSkp1 is a TgPhyA substrate. No cross-reactivity was detected between DdPhyA/TgPhyA substrates and human PHD2. The human Skp1 E147P variant is a DdPhyA and TgPhyA substrate, suggesting some retention of ancestral interactions. Crystallographic analysis of DdPhyA enables comparisons with homologues from humans, Trichoplax adhaerens, and prokaryotes, TgPhyA informing on differences in mobile elements involved in substrate binding and catalysis. In DdPhyA, two mobile loops that enclose substrates in the PHDs are conserved, but the C-terminal helix of the PHDs is strikingly absent. The combined results support the proposal that PHD homologues have evolved kinetic and structural features suited to their specific sensing roles.

Tongri Liu, Martine I Abboud, Rasheduzzaman Chowdhury, Anthony Tumber, Adam P Hardy, Kerstin Lippl, Christopher T Lohans, Elisabete Pires, James Wickens, Michael A McDonough, Christopher M West, Christopher J Schofield. J Biol Chem. 2020 Sep 15;jbc.RA120.013998. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013998.

Potent Tetrahydroquinolone Eliminates Apicomplexan Parasites

Apicomplexan infections cause substantial morbidity and mortality, worldwide. New, improved therapies are needed. Herein, we create a next generation anti-apicomplexan lead compound, JAG21, a tetrahydroquinolone, with increased sp3-character to improve parasite selectivity. Relative to other cytochrome b inhibitors, JAG21 has improved solubility and ADMET properties, without need for pro-drug. JAG21 significantly reduces Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites and encysted bradyzoites in vitro, and in primary and established chronic murine infections. Moreover, JAG21 treatment leads to 100% survival. Further, JAG21 is efficacious against drug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum in vitro. Causal prophylaxis and radical cure are achieved after P. berghei sporozoite infection with oral administration of a single dose (2.5 mg/kg) or 3 days treatment at reduced dose (0.625 mg/kg/day), eliminating parasitemia, and leading to 100% survival. Enzymatic, binding, and co-crystallography/pharmacophore studies demonstrate selectivity for apicomplexan relative to mammalian enzymes. JAG21 has significant promise as a pre-clinical candidate for prevention, treatment, and cure of toxoplasmosis and malaria.

Martin J. McPhillie, Ying Zhou, Mark R. Hickman, James A. Gordon, Christopher R. Weber, Qigui Li, Patty J. Lee, Kangsa Amporndanai, Rachel M. Johnson, Heather Darby, Stuart Woods, Zhu-hong Li, Richard S. Priestley, Kurt D. Ristroph, Scott B. Biering, Kamal El Bissati, Seungmin Hwang, Farida Esaa Hakim, Sarah M. Dovgin, Joseph D. Lykins, Lucy Roberts, Kerrie Hargrave, Hua Cong, Anthony P. Sinai, Stephen P. Muench, Jitender P. Dubey, Robert K. Prud’homme, Hernan A. Lorenzi, Giancarlo A. Biagini, Silvia N. Moreno, Craig W. Roberts, Svetlana V. Antonyuk, Colin W. G. Fishwick, and Rima McLeod. Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol., 09 June 2020 |