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  1. Boyle, Jon P. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) are a conserved family of protein kinases that regulate signal transduction, proliferation, and development throughout eukaryotes. The apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii expresses three MAPKs. Two of these, extracellular signal-regulated kinase 7 (ERK7) and MAPKL1, have been implicated in the regulation of conoid biogenesis and centrosome duplication, respectively. The third kinase, MAPK2, is specific to and conserved throughout the Alveolata, although its function is unknown. We used the auxin-inducible degron system to determine phenotypes associated with MAPK2 loss of function in Toxoplasma . We observed that parasites lacking MAPK2 failed to duplicate their centrosomes and therefore did not initiate daughter cell budding, which ultimately led to parasite death. MAPK2-deficient parasites initiated but did not complete DNA replication and arrested prior to mitosis. Surprisingly, the parasites continued to grow and replicate their Golgi apparatus, mitochondria, and apicoplasts. We found that the failure in centrosome duplication is distinct from the phenotype caused by the depletion of MAPKL1. As we did not observe MAPK2 localization at the centrosome at any point in the cell cycle, our data suggest that MAPK2 regulates a process at a distal site that is required for the completion of centrosome duplication and the initiationmore »of parasite mitosis. IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous intracellular protozoan parasite that can cause severe and fatal disease in immunocompromised patients and the developing fetus. Rapid parasite replication is critical for establishing a productive infection. Here, we demonstrate that a Toxoplasma protein kinase called MAPK2 is conserved throughout the Alveolata and essential for parasite replication. We found that parasites lacking MAPK2 protein were defective in the initiation of daughter cell budding and were rendered inviable. Specifically, T. gondii MAPK2 (TgMAPK2) appears to be required for centrosome replication at the basal end of the nucleus, and its loss causes arrest early in parasite division. MAPK2 is unique to the Alveolata and not found in metazoa and likely is a critical component of an essential parasite-specific signaling network.« less
  2. Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease that infects 240 million people. With no vaccines and only one drug available, new therapeutic targets are needed. The causative agents, schistosomes, are intravascular flatworm parasites that feed on blood and lay eggs, resulting in pathology. The function of the parasite's various tissues in successful parasitism are poorly understood, hindering identification of therapeutic targets. Using single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), we characterize 43,642 cells from the adult schistosome and identify 68 distinct cell populations, including specialized stem cells that maintain the parasite's blood-digesting gut. These stem cells express the gene hnf4, which is required for gut maintenance, blood feeding, and pathology in vivo. Together, these data provide molecular insights into the organ systems of this important pathogen and identify potential therapeutic targets.
  3. Denkers, Eric Y. (Ed.)
  4. Apicomplexan parasites use a specialized cilium structure called the apical complex to organize their secretory organelles and invasion machinery. The apical complex is integrally associated with both the parasite plasma membrane and an intermediate filament cytoskeleton called the inner-membrane complex (IMC). While the apical complex is essential to the parasitic lifestyle, little is known about the regulation of apical complex biogenesis. Here, we identify AC9 (apical cap protein 9), a largely intrinsically disordered component of the Toxoplasma gondii IMC, as essential for apical complex development, and therefore for host cell invasion and egress. Parasites lacking AC9 fail to successfully assemble the tubulin-rich core of their apical complex, called the conoid. We use proximity biotinylation to identify the AC9 interaction network, which includes the kinase extracellular signal-regulated kinase 7 (ERK7). Like AC9, ERK7 is required for apical complex biogenesis. We demonstrate that AC9 directly binds ERK7 through a conserved C-terminal motif and that this interaction is essential for ERK7 localization and function at the apical cap. The crystal structure of the ERK7–AC9 complex reveals that AC9 is not only a scaffold but also inhibits ERK7 through an unusual set of contacts that displaces nucleotide from the kinase active site. ERK7 ismore »an ancient and autoactivating member of the mitogen-activated kinase (MAPK) family and its regulation is poorly understood in all organisms. We propose that AC9 dually regulates ERK7 by scaffolding and concentrating it at its site of action while maintaining it in an “off” state until the specific binding of a true substrate.« less
  5. Chang, Fred (Ed.)
    Primary cilia are important organizing centers that control diverse cellular processes. Apicomplexan parasites like Toxoplasma gondii have a specialized cilium-like structure called the conoid that organizes the secretory and invasion machinery critical for the parasites’ lifestyle. The proteins that initiate the biogenesis of this structure are largely unknown. We identified the Toxoplasma orthologue of the conserved kinase ERK7 as essential to conoid assembly. Parasites in which ERK7 has been depleted lose their conoids late during maturation and are immotile and thus unable to invade new host cells. This is the most severe phenotype to conoid biogenesis yet reported, and is made more striking by the fact that ERK7 is not a conoid protein, as it localizes just basal to the structure. ERK7 has been recently implicated in ciliogenesis in metazoan cells, and our data suggest that this kinase has an ancient and central role in regulating ciliogenesis throughout Eukaryota.
  6. Apicomplexan parasites replicate within a protective organelle, called the parasitophorous vacuole (PV). TheToxoplasma gondiiPV is filled with a network of tubulated membranes, which are thought to facilitate trafficking of effectors and nutrients. Despite being critical to parasite virulence, there is scant mechanistic understanding of the network’s functions. Here, we identify the parasite-secreted kinase WNG1 (With-No-Gly-loop) as a critical regulator of tubular membrane biogenesis. WNG1 family members adopt an atypical protein kinase fold lacking the glycine rich ATP-binding loop that is required for catalysis in canonical kinases. Unexpectedly, we find that WNG1 is an active protein kinase that localizes to the PV lumen and phosphorylates PV-resident proteins, several of which are essential for the formation of a functional intravacuolar network. Moreover, we show that WNG1-dependent phosphorylation of these proteins is required for their membrane association, and thus their ability to tubulate membranes. Consequently, WNG1 knockout parasites have an aberrant PV membrane ultrastructure. Collectively, our results describe a unique family ofToxoplasmakinases and implicate phosphorylation of secreted proteins as a mechanism of regulating PV development during parasite infection.