An ortholog of <i>Plasmodium falciparum</i> chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT) plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the endolysosomal system in <i>Toxoplasma gondii</i> to facilitate host invasion

by L. Brock Thornton, Paige Teehan, Katherine Floyd, Christian Cochrane, Amy Bergmann, Bryce Riegel, Andrew J. Stasic, Manlio Di Cristina, Silvia N. J. Moreno, Paul D. Roepe, Zhicheng Dou

Toxoplasma gondii is an apicomplexan parasite with the ability to use foodborne, zoonotic, and congenital routes of transmission that causes severe disease in immunocompromised patients. The parasites harbor a lysosome-like organelle, termed the “Vacuolar Compartment/Plant-Like Vacuole” (VAC/PLV), which plays an important role in maintaining the lytic cycle and virulence of T. gondii. The VAC supplies proteolytic enzymes that contribute to the maturation of invasion effectors and that digest autophagosomes and endocytosed host proteins. Previous work identified a T. gondii ortholog of the Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT) that localized to the VAC. Here, we show that TgCRT is a membrane transporter that is functionally similar to PfCRT. We also genetically ablate TgCRT and reveal that the TgCRT protein plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the parasite’s endolysosomal system by controlling morphology of the VAC. When TgCRT is absent, the VAC dramatically increases in volume by ~15-fold and overlaps with adjacent endosome-like compartments. Presumably to reduce aberrant swelling, transcription and translation of endolysosomal proteases are decreased in ΔTgCRT parasites. Expression of subtilisin protease 1 is significantly reduced, which impedes trimming of microneme proteins, and significantly decreases parasite invasion. Chemical or genetic inhibition of proteolysis within the VAC reverses these effects, reducing VAC size and partially restoring integrity of the endolysosomal system, microneme protein trimming, and invasion. Taken together, these findings reveal for the first time a physiological role of TgCRT in substrate transport that impacts VAC volume and the integrity of the endolysosomal system in T. gondii.

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