Phosphorylation of mouse immunity-related gtpase (IRG) resistance proteins is an evasion strategy for virulent Toxoplasma gondii

Tobias Steinfeldt, Stephanie Könen-Waisman, Lan Tong, Nikolaus Pawlowski, Tobias Lamkemeyer, L. David Sibley, Julia P. Hunn, Jonathan C. Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Scopus citations


Virulence of complex pathogens in mammals is generally determined by multiple components of the pathogen interacting with the functional complexity and multiple layering of the mammalian immune system. It is most unusual for the resistance of a mammalian host to be overcome by the defeat of a single defence mechanism. In this study we uncover and analyse just such a case at the molecular level, involving the widespread intracellular protozoan pathogen Toxoplasma gondii and one of its most important natural hosts, the house mouse (Mus musculus). Natural polymorphism in virulence of Eurasian T. gondii strains for mice has been correlated in genetic screens with the expression of polymorphic rhoptry kinases (ROP kinases) secreted into the host cell during infection. We show that the molecular targets of the virulent allelic form of ROP18 kinase are members of a family of cellular GTPases, the interferon-inducible IRG (immunity-related GTPase) proteins, known from earlier work to be essential resistance factors in mice against avirulent strains of T. gondii. Virulent T. gondii strain ROP18 kinase phosphorylates several mouse IRG proteins. We show that the parasite kinase phosphorylates host Irga6 at two threonines in the nucleotide-binding domain, biochemically inactivating the GTPase and inhibiting its accumulation and action at the T. gondii parasitophorous vacuole membrane. Our analysis identifies the conformationally active switch I region of the GTP-binding site as an Achilles' heel of the IRG protein pathogen-resistance mechanism. The polymorphism of ROP18 in natural T. gondii populations indicates the existence of a dynamic, rapidly evolving ecological relationship between parasite virulence factors and host resistance factors. This system should be unusually fruitful for analysis at both ecological and molecular levels since both T. gondii and the mouse are widespread and abundant in the wild and are wellestablished model species with excellent analytical tools available.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000576
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Phosphorylation of mouse immunity-related gtpase (IRG) resistance proteins is an evasion strategy for virulent Toxoplasma gondii'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this