The Heptaprenyl Diphosphate Synthase (Coq1) Is the Target of a Lipophilic Bisphosphonate That Protects Mice against Toxoplasma gondii Infection

Prenyldiphosphate synthases catalyze the reaction of allylic diphosphates with one or more isopentenyl diphosphate molecules to form compounds such as farnesyl diphosphate, used in, e.g., sterol biosynthesis and protein prenylation, as well as longer “polyprenyl” diphosphates, used in ubiquinone and menaquinone biosynthesis. Quinones play an essential role in electron transport and are associated with the inner mitochondrial membrane due to the presence of the polyprenyl group. In this work, we investigated the synthesis of the polyprenyl diphosphate that alkylates the ubiquinone ring precursor in Toxoplasma gondii, an opportunistic pathogen that causes serious disease in immunocompromised patients and the unborn fetus. The enzyme that catalyzes this early step of the ubiquinone synthesis is Coq1 (TgCoq1), and we show that it produces the C35 species heptaprenyl diphosphate. TgCoq1 localizes to the mitochondrion and is essential for in vitro T. gondii growth. We demonstrate that the growth defect of a T. gondii TgCoq1 mutant is rescued by complementation with a homologous TgCoq1 gene or with a (C45) solanesyl diphosphate synthase from Trypanosoma cruzi (TcSPPS). We find that a lipophilic bisphosphonate (BPH-1218) inhibits T. gondii growth at low-nanomolar concentrations, while overexpression of the TgCoq1 enzyme dramatically reduced growth inhibition by the bisphosphonate. Both the severe growth defect of the mutant and the inhibition by BPH-1218 were rescued by supplementation with a long-chain (C30) ubiquinone (UQ6). Importantly, BPH-1218 also protected mice against a lethal T. gondii infection. TgCoq1 thus represents a potential drug target that could be exploited for improved chemotherapy of toxoplasmosis.

IMPORTANCE Millions of people are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, and the available treatment for toxoplasmosis is not ideal. Most of the drugs currently used are only effective for the acute infection, and treatment can trigger serious side effects requiring changes in the therapeutic approach. There is, therefore, a compelling need for safe and effective treatments for toxoplasmosis. In this work, we characterize an enzyme of the mitochondrion of T. gondii that can be inhibited by an isoprenoid pathway inhibitor. We present evidence that demonstrates that inhibition of the enzyme is linked to parasite death. In addition, the inhibitor can protect mice against a lethal dose of T. gondii. Our results thus reveal a promising chemotherapeutic target for the development of new medicines for toxoplasmosis.

Melissa A Sleda, Zhu-Hong Li, Ranjan Behera, Baihetiya Baierna, Catherine Li, Jomkwan Jumpathong, Satish R Malwal, Makoto Kawamukai, Eric Oldfield, Silvia N J Moreno. mBio. 2022 Sep 21;e0196622. doi: 10.1128/mbio.01966-22.