The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii is an important pathogen of humans and animals. Some of the devastating consequences of toxoplasmosis are in part due to the lysis of the host cell during parasite egress. The process of egress is poorly understood and since it is asynchronous in tissue culture its study has been limited to those conditions that induce it, such as artificial permeabilisation of the host cell and induction of calcium fluxes with ionophores. Given that permeabilisation leads to egress by the activation of motility upon a drop in host cell potassium concentration, we investigated whether the ionophore nigericin, which selectively causes efflux of potassium from the cell without the need for permeabilisation, would cause egress. Nigericin effectively causes intracellular parasites to exit their host cell within 30 min of treatment with the drug. Our results show that nigericin-induced egress depends on an efflux of potassium from the cell and requires phospholipase C function and parasite motility. This novel method of inducing and synchronising egress mimics the effect of artificial permeabilisation in all respects. Nevertheless, since the membrane remains intact during the treatment, in our nigericin-induced egress we are able to detect parasite-dependent permeabilisation of the host cell, a known step in induced egress. In addition, consistent with the model that loss of host cell potassium leads to egress through the activation of intraparasitic calcium fluxes, a previously isolated Toxoplasma mutant lacking a sodium hydrogen exchanger and defective in responding to calcium fluxes does not undergo nigericin-induced egress. Thus, the discovery that nigericin induces egress presents a novel assay that allows for the genetic and biochemical analysis of the signalling mechanisms that lead to the induction of motility and egress.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases