Cytoskeleton as a Platform for Innovation

The unifying cell structural feature of dinoflagellates, apicomplexans and ciliates is a system of flattened membrane sacs called alveoli immediately beneath the plasma membrane supported by a complex proteinaceous cytoskeleton. Hence the Infrakingdom name Alveolata. Little was know of the molecular basis of this common pellicular structure, yet through comparative genomics and proteomics, we have identified a large class of proteins that are common to the pellicle of all three groups. We are now using the genetically tractable model apicomplexan, Toxoplasma gondii, to deconstruct the function and evolutionary history of this defining cell structure. 

Apicomplexan parasites cause enormous burden both to human health (e.g. malaria, cryptosporidiosis, toxoplasmosis) and food security as live stock pathogens. Key to their success as parasites has been the adaptation of the pellicle cytoskeleton to enable invasion of their host’s cells and rapid proliferation. We are particularly interested in understanding this re-engineering of the cytoskeleton for parasitism in order to better understand, manage and combat these diseases.

Selected publications

  1. Wall, R.J et al (2016) SAS6-like protein in Plasmodium indicates that conoid-associated apical complex proteins persist in invasive stages within the mosquito vector. Sci. Rep. 6:28604
  2. Katris, N.J. et al (2014) The apical complex provides a regulated gateway for secretion of invasion factors in Toxoplasma. PLOS Pathog. 10: e1004074
  3. El-Haddad, et al (2013) Characterization of TtALV2, an essential charged repeat motif protein of the Tetrahymena thermophila membrane skeleton. Euk. Cell 12(6): 932-40
  4. Gould. S.B. et al (2011) Ciliate pellicular proteome identifies novel protein families with characteristic repeat motIfs that are common to Alveolates. Mol. Biol. Evol. 28: 1319-31
  5. Gould, S.B., et al (2008) Alveolins, a New Family of Cortical Proteins that Define the Protist Infrakingdom Alveolata.  Mol. Biol. Evol. 25:1219-30

The Toxoplasma cytoskeleton is central to both host cell invasion and parasite cell replication




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