Burt and Marion Avery Professor of Immunology, Emeritus


  • Cryogenic electron tomography reveals novel structures in the apical complex of Plasmodium falciparum. mBio Sun, S. Y., Segev-Zarko, L., Pintilie, G. D., Kim, C. Y., Staggers, S. R., Schmid, M. F., Egan, E. S., Chiu, W., Boothroyd, J. C. 2024: e0286423


    Intracellular infectious agents, like the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, face the daunting challenge of how to invade a host cell. This problem may be even harder when the host cell in question is the enucleated red blood cell, which lacks the host machinery co-opted by many pathogens for internalization. Evolution has provided P. falciparum and related single-celled parasites within the phylum Apicomplexa with a collection of organelles at their apical end that mediate invasion. This apical complex includes at least two sets of secretory organelles, micronemes and rhoptries, and several structural features like apical rings and a putative pore through which proteins may be introduced into the host cell during invasion. We perform cryogenic electron tomography (cryo-ET) equipped with Volta Phase Plate on isolated and vitrified merozoites to visualize the apical machinery. Through tomographic reconstruction of cellular compartments, we see new details of known structures like the rhoptry tip interacting directly with a rosette resembling the recently described rhoptry secretory apparatus (RSA), or with an apical vesicle docked beneath the RSA. Subtomogram averaging reveals that the apical rings have a fixed number of repeating units, each of which is similar in overall size and shape to the units in the apical rings of tachyzoites of Toxoplasma gondii. Comparison of these polar rings in Plasmodium and Toxoplasma parasites also reveals them to have a structurally conserved assembly pattern. These results provide new insight into the essential and structurally conserved features of this remarkable machinery used by apicomplexan parasites to invade their respective host cells.Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium and is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality globally. Upon infection, Plasmodium parasites invade and replicate in red blood cells, where they are largely protected from the immune system. To enter host cells, the parasites employ a specialized apparatus at their anterior end. In this study, advanced imaging techniques like cryogenic electron tomography (cryo-ET) and Volta Phase Plate enable unprecedented visualization of whole Plasmodium falciparum merozoites, revealing previously unknown structural details of their invasion machinery. Key findings include new insights into the structural conservation of apical rings shared between Plasmodium and its apicomplexan cousin, Toxoplasma. These discoveries shed light on the essential and conserved elements of the invasion machinery used by these pathogens. Moreover, the research provides a foundation for understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying parasite-host interactions, potentially informing strategies for combating diseases caused by apicomplexan parasites.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mbio.02864-23

    View details for PubMedID 38456679

  • Cryo-electron tomography with mixed-scale dense neural networks reveals key steps in deployment of Toxoplasma invasion machinery. PNAS nexus Segev-Zarko, L. A., Dahlberg, P. D., Sun, S. Y., Pelt, D. M., Kim, C. Y., Egan, E. S., Sethian, J. A., Chiu, W., Boothroyd, J. C. 2022; 1 (4): pgac183


    Host cell invasion by intracellular, eukaryotic parasites within the phylum Apicomplexa is a remarkable and active process involving the coordinated action of apical organelles and other structures. To date, capturing how these structures interact during invasion has been difficult to observe in detail. Here, we used cryogenic electron tomography to image the apical complex of Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites under conditions that mimic resting parasites and those primed to invade through stimulation with calcium ionophore. Through the application of mixed-scale dense networks for image processing, we developed a highly efficient pipeline for annotation of tomograms, enabling us to identify and extract densities of relevant subcellular organelles and accurately analyze features in 3-D. The results reveal a dramatic change in the shape of the anteriorly located apical vesicle upon its apparent fusion with a rhoptry that occurs only in the stimulated parasites. We also present information indicating that this vesicle originates from the vesicles that parallel the intraconoidal microtubules and that the latter two structures are linked by a novel tether. We show that a rosette structure previously proposed to be involved in rhoptry secretion is associated with apical vesicles beyond just the most anterior one. This result, suggesting multiple vesicles are primed to enable rhoptry secretion, may shed light on the mechanisms Toxoplasma employs to enable repeated invasion attempts. Using the same approach, we examine Plasmodium falciparum merozoites and show that they too possess an apical vesicle just beneath a rosette, demonstrating evolutionary conservation of this overall subcellular organization.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac183

    View details for PubMedID 36329726

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9615128

  • Cryo-ET of Toxoplasma parasites gives subnanometer insight into tubulin-based structures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Sun, S. Y., Segev-Zarko, L., Chen, M., Pintilie, G. D., Schmid, M. F., Ludtke, S. J., Boothroyd, J. C., Chiu, W. 2022; 119 (6)


    Tubulin is a conserved protein that polymerizes into different forms of filamentous structures in Toxoplasma gondii, an obligate intracellular parasite in the phylum Apicomplexa. Two key tubulin-containing cytoskeletal components are subpellicular microtubules (SPMTs) and conoid fibrils (CFs). The SPMTs help maintain shape and gliding motility, while the CFs are implicated in invasion. Here, we use cryogenic electron tomography to determine the molecular structures of the SPMTs and CFs in vitrified intact and detergent-extracted parasites. Subvolume densities from detergent-extracted parasites yielded averaged density maps at subnanometer resolutions, and these were related back to their architecture in situ. An intralumenal spiral lines the interior of the 13-protofilament SPMTs, revealing a preferred orientation of these microtubules relative to the parasite's long axis. Each CF is composed of nine tubulin protofilaments that display a comma-shaped cross-section, plus additional associated components. Conoid protrusion, a crucial step in invasion, is associated with an altered pitch of each CF. The use of basic building blocks of protofilaments and different accessory proteins in one organism illustrates the versatility of tubulin to form two distinct types of assemblies, SPMTs and CFs.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.2111661119

    View details for PubMedID 35121661

  • Proximity-Labeling Reveals Novel Host and Parasite Proteins at the Toxoplasma Parasitophorous Vacuole Membrane. mBio Cygan, A. M., Jean Beltran, P. M., Mendoza, A. G., Branon, T. C., Ting, A. Y., Carr, S. A., Boothroyd, J. C. 2021: e0026021


    Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous, intracellular parasite that envelops its parasitophorous vacuole with a protein-laden membrane (PVM). The PVM is critical for interactions with the infected host cell, such as nutrient transport and immune defense. Only a few parasite and host proteins have so far been identified on the host-cytosolic side of the Toxoplasma PVM. We report here the use of human foreskin fibroblasts expressing the proximity-labeling enzyme miniTurbo, fused to a domain that targets it to this face of the PVM, in combination with quantitative proteomics to specifically identify proteins present at this interface. Out of numerous human and parasite proteins with candidate PVM localization, we validate three parasite proteins (TGGT1_269950 [GRA61], TGGT1_215360 [GRA62], and TGGT1_217530 [GRA63]) and four new host proteins (PDCD6IP/ALIX, PDCD6, CC2D1A, and MOSPD2) as localized to the PVM in infected human cells through immunofluorescence microscopy. These results significantly expand our knowledge of proteins present at the Toxoplasma PVM and, given that three of the validated host proteins are components of the ESCRT (endosomal sorting complexes required for transport) machinery, they further suggest that novel biology is operating at this crucial host-pathogen interface. IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma is an intracellular pathogen which resides and replicates inside a membrane-bound vacuole in infected cells. This vacuole is modified by both parasite and host proteins which participate in a variety of host-parasite interactions at this interface, including nutrient exchange, effector transport, and immune modulation. Only a small number of parasite and host proteins present at the vacuolar membrane and exposed to the host cytosol have thus far been identified. Here, we report the identification of several novel parasite and host proteins present at the vacuolar membrane using enzyme-catalyzed proximity-labeling, significantly increasing our knowledge of the molecular players present and novel biology occurring at this crucial interface.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mBio.00260-21

    View details for PubMedID 34749525

  • Coimmunoprecipitation with MYR1 Identifies Three Additional Proteins within the Toxoplasma gondii Parasitophorous Vacuole Required for Translocation of Dense Granule Effectors into Host Cells. mSphere Cygan, A. M., Theisen, T. C., Mendoza, A. G., Marino, N. D., Panas, M. W., Boothroyd, J. C. 2020; 5 (1)


    Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous, intracellular protozoan that extensively modifies infected host cells through secreted effector proteins. Many such effectors must be translocated across the parasitophorous vacuole (PV), in which the parasites replicate, ultimately ending up in the host cytosol or nucleus. This translocation has previously been shown to be dependent on five parasite proteins: MYR1, MYR2, MYR3, ROP17, and ASP5. We report here the identification of several MYR1-interacting and novel PV-localized proteins via affinity purification of MYR1, including TGGT1_211460 (dubbed MYR4), TGGT1_204340 (dubbed GRA54), and TGGT1_270320 (PPM3C). Further, we show that three of the MYR1-interacting proteins, GRA44, GRA45, and MYR4, are essential for the translocation of the Toxoplasma effector protein GRA16 and for the upregulation of human c-Myc and cyclin E1 in infected cells. GRA44 and GRA45 contain ASP5 processing motifs, but like MYR1, processing at these sites appears to be nonessential for their role in protein translocation. These results expand our understanding of the mechanism of effector translocation in Toxoplasma and indicate that the process is highly complex and dependent on at least eight discrete proteins.IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma is an extremely successful intracellular parasite and important human pathogen. Upon infection of a new cell, Toxoplasma establishes a replicative vacuole and translocates parasite effectors across this vacuole to function from the host cytosol and nucleus. These effectors play a key role in parasite virulence. The work reported here newly identifies three parasite proteins that are necessary for protein translocation into the host cell. These results significantly increase our knowledge of the molecular players involved in protein translocation in Toxoplasma-infected cells and provide additional potential drug targets.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mSphere.00858-19

    View details for PubMedID 32075880

  • A single-parasite transcriptional atlas of Toxoplasma gondii reveals novel control of antigen expression. eLife Xue, Y., Theisen, T. C., Rastogi, S., Ferrel, A., Quake, S. R., Boothroyd, J. C. 2020; 9


    Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite, undergoes a complex and poorly understood developmental process that is critical for establishing a chronic infection in its intermediate hosts. Here, we applied single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) on >5,400 Toxoplasma in both tachyzoite and bradyzoite stages using three widely studied strains to construct a comprehensive atlas of cell-cycle and asexual development, revealing hidden states and transcriptional factors associated with each developmental stage. Analysis of SAG1-related sequence (SRS) antigenic repertoire reveals a highly heterogeneous, sporadic expression pattern unexplained by measurement noise, cell cycle, or asexual development. Furthermore, we identified AP2IX-1 as a transcription factor that controls the switching from the ubiquitous SAG1 to rare surface antigens not previously observed in tachyzoites. In addition, comparative analysis between Toxoplasma and Plasmodium scRNA-seq results reveals concerted expression of gene sets, despite fundamental differences in cell division. Lastly, we built an interactive data-browser for visualization of our atlas resource.

    View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.54129

    View details for PubMedID 32065584

  • Translocation of effector proteins into host cells by Toxoplasma gondii. Current opinion in microbiology Rastogi, S., Cygan, A. M., Boothroyd, J. C. 2019; 52: 130–38


    The Apicomplexan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is an obligate intracellular organism that must co-opt its host cell to survive. To this end, Toxoplasma parasites introduce a suite of effector proteins from two secretory compartments called rhoptries and dense granules into the host cells. Once inside, these effectors extensively modify the host cell to facilitate parasite penetration, replication and persistence. In this review, we summarize the most recent advances in current understanding of effector translocation from Toxoplasma's rhoptry and dense granule organelles into the host cell, with comparisons to Plasmodium spp. for broader context.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.mib.2019.07.002

    View details for PubMedID 31446366

  • Translocation of Dense Granule Effectors across the Parasitophorous Vacuole Membrane in Toxoplasma-Infected Cells Requires the Activity of ROP17, a Rhoptry Protein Kinase. mSphere Panas, M. W., Ferrel, A., Naor, A., Tenborg, E., Lorenzi, H. A., Boothroyd, J. C. 2019; 4 (4)


    Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites co-opt host cell functions through introduction of a large set of rhoptry- and dense granule-derived effector proteins. These effectors reach the host cytosol through different means: direct injection for rhoptry effectors and translocation across the parasitophorous vacuolar membrane (PVM) for dense granule (GRA) effectors. The machinery that translocates these GRA effectors has recently been partially elucidated, revealing three components, MYR1, MYR2, and MYR3. To determine whether other proteins might be involved, we returned to a library of mutants defective in GRA translocation and selected one with a partial defect, suggesting it might be in a gene encoding a new component of the machinery. Surprisingly, whole-genome sequencing revealed a missense mutation in a gene encoding a known rhoptry protein, a serine/threonine protein kinase known as ROP17. ROP17 resides on the host cytosol side of the PVM in infected cells and has previously been known for its activity in phosphorylating and thereby inactivating host immunity-related GTPases. Here, we show that null or catalytically dead mutants of ROP17 are defective in GRA translocation across the PVM but that translocation can be rescued "in trans" by ROP17 delivered by other tachyzoites infecting the same host cell. This strongly argues that ROP17's role in regulating GRA translocation is carried out on the host cytosolic side of the PVM, not within the parasites or lumen of the parasitophorous vacuole. This represents an entirely new way in which the different secretory compartments of Toxoplasma tachyzoites collaborate to modulate the host-parasite interaction.IMPORTANCE When Toxoplasma infects a cell, it establishes a protective parasitophorous vacuole surrounding it. While this vacuole provides protection, it also serves as a barrier to the export of parasite effector proteins that impact and take control of the host cell. Our discovery here that the parasite rhoptry protein ROP17 is necessary for export of these effector proteins provides a distinct, novel function for ROP17 apart from its known role in protecting the vacuole. This will enable future research into ways in which we can prevent the export of effector proteins, thereby preventing Toxoplasma from productively infecting its animal and human hosts.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mSphere.00276-19

    View details for PubMedID 31366709

  • Toxoplasma Controls Host Cyclin E Expression through the Use of a Novel MYR1-Dependent Effector Protein, HCE1. mBio Panas, M. W., Naor, A., Cygan, A. M., Boothroyd, J. C. 2019; 10 (2)


    Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite that establishes a favorable environment in the host cells in which it replicates. We have previously reported that it uses MYR-dependent translocation of dense granule proteins to elicit a key set of host responses related to the cell cycle, specifically, E2F transcription factor targets, including cyclin E. We report here the identification of a novel Toxoplasma effector protein that is exported from the parasitophorous vacuole in a MYR1-dependent manner and localizes to the host's nucleus. Parasites lacking this inducer of host cyclin E (HCE1) are unable to modulate E2F transcription factor target genes and exhibit a substantial growth defect. Immunoprecipitation of HCE1 from infected host cells showed that HCE1 efficiently binds elements of the cyclin E regulatory complex, namely, DP1 and its partners E2F3 and E2F4. Expression of HCE1 in Neospora caninum, or in uninfected human foreskin fibroblasts (HFFs), showed localization of the expressed protein to the host nuclei and strong cyclin E upregulation. Thus, HCE1 is a novel effector protein that is necessary and sufficient to impact the E2F axis of transcription, resulting in co-opting of host functions to the advantage of Toxoplasma IMPORTANCE Like most Apicomplexan parasites, Toxoplasma gondii has the remarkable ability to invade and establish a replicative niche within another eukaryotic cell, in this case, any of a large number of cell types in almost any warm-blooded animals. Part of the process of establishing this niche is the export of effector proteins to co-opt host cell functions in favor of the parasite. Here we identify a novel effector protein, HCE1, that the parasites export into the nucleus of human cells, where it modulates the expression of multiple genes, including the gene encoding cyclin E, one of the most crucial proteins involved in controlling when and whether a human cell divides. We show that HCE1 works through binding to specific transcription factors, namely, E2F3, E2F4, and DP1, that normally carefully regulate these all-important pathways. This represents a new way in which these consummately efficient infectious agents co-opt the human cells that they so efficiently grow within.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mBio.00674-19

    View details for PubMedID 31040242

  • MYR1-Dependent Effectors Are the Major Drivers of a Host Cell's Early Response to Toxoplasma, Including Counteracting MYR1-Independent Effects MBIO Naor, A., Panas, M. W., Marino, N., Coffey, M. J., Tonkin, C. J., Boothroyd, J. C. 2018; 9 (2)


    The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii controls its host cell from within the parasitophorous vacuole (PV) by using a number of diverse effector proteins, a subset of which require the aspartyl protease 5 enzyme (ASP5) and/or the recently discovered MYR1 protein to cross the PV membrane. To examine the impact these effectors have in the context of the entirety of the host response to Toxoplasma, we used RNA-Seq to analyze the transcriptome expression profiles of human foreskin fibroblasts infected with wild-type RH (RH-WT), RHΔmyr1, and RHΔasp5 tachyzoites. Interestingly, the majority of the differentially regulated genes responding to Toxoplasma infection are MYR1 dependent. A subset of MYR1 responses were ASP5 independent, and MYR1 function did not require ASP5 cleavage, suggesting the export of some effectors requires only MYR1. Gene set enrichment analysis of MYR1-dependent host responses suggests an upregulation of E2F transcription factors and the cell cycle and a downregulation related to interferon signaling, among numerous others. Most surprisingly, "hidden" responses arising in RHΔmyr1- but not RH-WT-infected host cells indicate counterbalancing actions of MYR1-dependent and -independent activities. The host genes and gene sets revealed here to be MYR1 dependent provide new insight into the parasite's ability to co-opt host cell functions.IMPORTANCEToxoplasma gondii is unique in its ability to successfully invade and replicate in a broad range of host species and cells within those hosts. The complex interplay of effector proteins exported by Toxoplasma is key to its success in co-opting the host cell to create a favorable replicative niche. Here we show that a majority of the transcriptomic effects in tachyzoite-infected cells depend on the activity of a novel translocation system involving MYR1 and that the effectors delivered by this system are part of an intricate interplay of activators and suppressors. Removal of all MYR1-dependent effectors reveals previously unknown activities that are masked or hidden by the action of these proteins.

    View details for PubMedID 29615509