The parasite Toxoplasma gondii controls tissue-specific nitric oxide (NO), thereby augmenting virulence and immunopathology through poorly-understood mechanisms. We now identify TgMAPK1, a Toxoplasma mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), as a virulence factor regulating tissue-specific parasite burden by manipulating host interferon (IFN)-γ-mediated inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). Toxoplasma with reduced TgMAPK1 expression (TgMAPK1lo) demonstrated that TgMAPK1 facilitates IFN-γ-driven p38 MAPK activation, reducing IFN-γ-generated NO in an MKK3-dependent manner, blunting IFN-γ-mediated parasite control. TgMAPK1lo infection in wild type mice produced ≥ten-fold lower parasite burden versus control parasites with normal TgMAPK1 expression (TgMAPK1con). Reduced parasite burdens persisted in IFN-γ KO mice, but equalized in normally iNOS-replete organs from iNOS KO mice. Parasite MAPKs are far less studied than other parasite kinases, but deserve additional attention as targets for immunotherapy and drug discovery.
- Toxoplasma gondii