University of Vermont

Clostridium septicum alpha-toxin is active against the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii and targets members of the SAG family of glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored surface proteins


As is the case with many other protozoan parasites, glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins dominate the surface of Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites. The mechanisms by which T. gondii GPI-anchored proteins are synthesized and transported through the unusual triple-membrane structure of the parasite pellicle to the plasma membrane remain largely unknown. As a first step in developing tools to study these processes, we show here that Clostridium septicum alpha-toxin, a pore-forming toxin that targets GPI-anchored protein receptors on the surface of mammalian cells, is active against T. gondii tachyzoites (50% effective concentration, 0.2 nM). Ultrastructural studies reveal that a tight physical connection between the plasma membrane and the underlying membranes of the inner membrane complex is locally disrupted by toxin treatment, resulting in a massive outward extension of the plasma membrane and ultimately lysis of the parasite. Toxin treatment also causes swelling of the parasite endoplasmic reticulum, providing the first direct evidence that alpha-toxin is a vacuolating toxin. Alpha-toxin binds to several parasite GPI-anchored proteins, including surface antigen 3 (SAG3) and SAG1. Interestingly, differences in the toxin-binding profiles between the virulent RH and avirulent P strain were observed. Alpha-toxin may prove to be a powerful experimental tool for molecular genetic analysis of GPI anchor biosynthesis and GPI-anchored protein trafficking in T. gondii and other susceptible protozoa.

Infect Immun 70:4353-4361