The protein phosphatase PPKL is a key regulator of daughter parasite development in Toxoplasma gondii

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American Society for Microbiology

Apicomplexan parasites, including Toxoplasma gondii, encode many plant-like proteins, which play significant roles and present attractive targets for drug development. In this study, we have characterized the plant-like protein phosphatase PPKL, which is unique to the parasite and absent in its mammalian host. We have shown that its localization changes as the parasite divides. In non-dividing parasites, it is present in the cytoplasm, nucleus, and preconoidal region. As the parasite begins division, PPKL is enriched in the preconoidal region and the cortical cytoskeleton of nascent parasites. Later in the division, PPKL is present in the basal complex ring. Conditional knockdown of PPKL showed that it is essential for parasite propagation. Moreover, parasites lacking PPKL exhibit uncoupling of division, with normal DNA duplication but severe defects in forming daughter parasites. While PPKL depletion does not impair the duplication of centrosomes, it affects the stability of cortical microtubules. Both co-immunoprecipitation and proximity labeling identified the kinase DYRK1 as a potential functional partner of PPKL. Complete knockout of DYRK1 causes parasites to exhibit division defects with predominantly asynchronous divisions. Global phosphoproteomics analysis revealed a significant increase in phosphorylation of the microtubule-associated protein SPM1 in PPKL-depleted parasites, suggesting that PPKL regulates cortical microtubules by mediating the phosphorylation state of SPM1. More importantly, the phosphorylation of cell cycle-associated kinase Crk1, a known regulator of daughter cell assembly, is altered in PPKL-depleted parasites. Thus, we propose that PPKL regulates daughter parasite development by influencing the Crk1-dependent signaling pathway.

IMPORTANCE: Toxoplasma gondii can cause severe disease in immunocompromised or immunosuppressed patients and during congenital infections. Treating toxoplasmosis presents enormous challenges since the parasite shares many biological processes with its mammalian hosts, which results in significant side effects with current therapies. Consequently, proteins that are essential and unique to the parasite represent favorable targets for drug development. Interestingly, Toxoplasma, like other members of the phylum Apicomplexa, has numerous plant-like proteins, many of which play crucial roles and do not have equivalents in the mammalian host. In this study, we found that the plant-like protein phosphatase PPKL appears to be a key regulator of daughter parasite development. With the depletion of PPKL, the parasite shows severe defects in forming daughter parasites. This study provides novel insights into the understanding of parasite division and offers a new potential target for the development of antiparasitic drugs.

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Yang C, Doud EH, Sampson E, Arrizabalaga G. The protein phosphatase PPKL is a key regulator of daughter parasite development in Toxoplasma gondii. mBio. Published online October 25, 2023. doi:10.1128/mbio.02254-23
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