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Open Access Research article

Toxoplasma gondii merozoite gene expression analysis with comparison to the life cycle discloses a unique expression state during enteric development

Michael S Behnke1*, Tiange P Zhang1, Jitender P Dubey2 and L David Sibley1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 S. Euclid Ave., St Louis, MO 63110, USA

2 United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Building 1001, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:350  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-350

Published: 8 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Considerable work has been carried out to understand the biology of tachyzoites and bradyzoites of Toxoplasma gondii in large part due to in vitro culture methods for these stages. However, culturing methods for stages that normally develop in the gut of the definitive felid host, including the merozoite and sexual stages, have not been developed hindering the ability to study a large portion of the parasite’s life cycle. Here, we begin to unravel the molecular aspects of enteric stages by providing new data on merozoite stage gene expression.

Results

To profile gene expression differences in enteric stages we harvested merozoites from the intestine of infected cats and hybridized mRNA to the Affymetrix Toxoplasma GeneChip. We analyzed the merozoite data in context of the life cycle by comparing it to previously published data for the oocyst, tachyzoite, and bradyzoite stages. Principal component analysis highlighted the unique profile of merozoites, placing them approximately half-way on a continuum between the tachyzoite/bradyzoite and oocyst samples. Prior studies have shown that antibodies to surface antigen one (SAG1) and many dense granule proteins do not label merozoites: our microarray data confirms that these genes were not expressed at this stage. Also, the expression for many rhoptry and microneme proteins was drastically reduced while the expression for many surface antigens was increased at the merozoite stage. Gene Ontology and KEGG analysis revealed that genes involved in transcription/translation and many metabolic pathways were upregulated at the merozoite stage, highlighting unique growth requirements of this stage. To functionally test these predictions, we demonstrated that an upstream promoter region of a merozoite specific gene was sufficient to control expression in merozoites in vivo.

Conclusions

Merozoites are the first developmental stage in the coccidian cycle that takes place within the gut of the definitive host. The data presented here describe the global gene expression profile of the merozoite stage and the creation of transgenic parasite strains that show stage-specific expression of reporter genes in the cat intestine. These data and reagents will be useful in unlocking how the parasite senses and responds to the felid gut environment to initiate enteric development.

Keywords:
Toxoplasma gondii; Merozoite; Enteric stages; Definitive host; Life cycle; Parasite; Gene expression