The apicoplast, a chloroplast-like organelle, is an essential cellular component of most apicomplexan parasites, including Plasmodium and Toxoplasma. The apicoplast maintains its own genome, a 35-kb DNA molecule that largely encodes proteins required for organellar transcription and translation. Interference with apicoplast genome maintenance and function is a validated target for drug therapy for malaria and toxoplasmosis. However, the many proteins required for genome maintenance and inheritance remain largely unstudied. Here we genetically characterize a nucleus-encoded homolog to the bacterial HU protein in Toxoplasma gondii. In bacteria, HU is a DNA-binding structural protein with fundamental roles in transcription, replication initiation, and DNA repair. Immunofluorescence assays reveal that in T. gondii this protein localizes to the apicoplast. We have found that the HU protein from Toxoplasma can successfully complement bacterial ΔhupA mutants, supporting a similar function. We were able to construct a genetic knockout of HU in Toxoplasma. This Δhu mutant is barely viable and exhibits significant growth retardation. Upon further analysis of the mutant phenotype, we find that this mutant has a dramatically reduced apicoplast genome copy number and, furthermore, suffers defects in the segregation of the apicoplast organelle. Our findings not only show that the HU protein is important for Toxoplasma cell biology but also demonstrate the importance of the apicoplast genome in the biogenesis of the organelle.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology