Transport and trafficking: Toxoplasma as a model for Plasmodium

David S. Roos, Michael J. Crawford, Robert G.K. Donald, Leah M. Fohl, Kristin M. Hager, Jessica C. Kissinger, Mary G. Reynolds, Boris Striepen, William J. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Scopus citations


Like Plasmodium, the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a member of the phylum Apicomplexa, and an obligate intracellular pathogen. Unlike Plasmodium, however, Toxoplasma is highly amenable to experimental manipulation in the laboratory. The development of molecular transformation protocols for T. gondii has provided both scientific precedent and practical selectable markers for Plasmodium. Beyond the feasibility of molecular biological experimentation now possible in both systems, the high frequency of stable transformation in Toxoplasma allows this parasite to be used for molecular genetic analysis. The ability to control homologous vs. non-homologous recombination in T. gondii permits gene knockouts/allelic replacements at previously cloned loci, and saturation insertional mutagenesis of the entire parasite genome (and cloning of the tagged loci). T. gondii also exhibits unusual ultrastructural clarity, facilitating cell biological analysis. The accessibility of Toxoplasma as an experimental system allows this parasite to be used as a surrogate for asking many questions that cannot easily be addressed in Plasmodium itself. T. gondii also serves as a model system for genetic exploration of parasite biology and host-parasite interactions. Success stories include: biochemical analysis of antifolate resistance mechanisms; pharmacological studies on the mechanisms of macrolide activity; genetic identification of nucleobase/nucleoside transporters and metabolic pathways; and cell biological characterization of the apicomplexan plastid. As with any model system, not all questions of interest to malariologists can be addressed in Toxoplasma; differentiating between sensible and foolish questions requires familiarity with the biological similarities and differences of these systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-198
Number of pages23
JournalNovartis Foundation Symposium
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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