Characterizing the unique myosin motors driving motility and active host cell invasion by apicomplexan parasites




Powell, Cameron

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Phylum Apicomplexa comprises several thousand parasitic protozoans that cause significant disease in humans and animals worldwide. Of particular relevance to human health are Plasmodium spp., the causative agents of malaria; and Toxoplasma gondii, which infects approximately 30% of all humans on earth, and causes serious disease in immunocompromised individuals and neonatally infected fetuses. Central to the pathogenesis of apicomplexans is a unique form of substrate-dependent locomotion termed “gliding motility”, which is essential for traversing the environment and actively invading host cells. Driving motility is the class-XIV unconventional myosin motor (MyoA), which is notably divergent from canonical myosins in that it lacks a “tail” and conventional sequence motifs in both the neck and motor regions. Thus, the mechanisms that enable MyoA to function with a step size and velocity similar to canonical human myosins are not well understood. Over the past 2 decades, the apicomplexan research community has identified many of the components involved in gliding motility, resulting in a functional model of MyoA and accessory proteins forming the “glideosome” macromolecular complex. However, there was still relatively little known about the unique physical processes that drive force production and transduction in the apicomplexan motor complex. Thus, I set out to use structural and biophysical methods to interrogate this divergent molecular motor, and provide the first high-resolution model of apicomplexan motility. Towards this goal, I first used structural and biophysical methods to establish the most complete model to date of class-XIV motor complex assembly, answering key questions about the interface between MyoA and its accessory proteins. To understand the unique molecular basis of force production in apicomplexan motors, I then solved the first ever crystal structure of a class-XIV myosin, MyoA from T. gondii. Supplementing this structure with further biophysical data, I was able to determine the functional consequences of class-defining sequence polymorphisms, and elucidate the basis of phosphorylation-dependent motor regulation. The systematic dissection of apicomplexan motor complexes described herein provides crucial insight into a fundamental biological process, and may help overcome existing barriers for targeted therapeutic development.



Toxoplasma gondii, Malaria, Plasmodium, Myosin, Motility, Apicomplexa, X-ray crystallography, HDX-MS, ITC, Structural biology, Protein