Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

First Advisor

Gary E. Ward


T.gondii is a model organism of the phylum Apicomplexa that infects one third of the human population. While the majority of infections are asymptomatic or manifest with mild flu-like symptoms, toxoplasmosis can be fatal in immunocompromised individuals and in the developing fetus. The lytic cycle of tachyzoite-stage parasites causes damage to the host by repeated rounds of host cell invasion, intracellular replication and lysis of the host cell upon egress.

Invasion is a key step for the parasite to maintain its intracellular lifestyle. Apical Membrane Antigen 1 (AMA1) is an adhesin released from a unique set of secretory organelles called micronemes. AMA1 plays a central role in the initial stages of host cell invasion. Although parasites without AMA1 are viable in culture, virulence in an animal model of infection is completely attenuated, highlighting AMA1's functional importance. AMA1 is a type I transmembrane protein with a large ectodomain and a short cytoplasmic tail. The ectodomain of AMA1 interacts with domain 3 (D3) of rhoptry neck protein 2 (RON2), which in turn complexes with RONs 4, 5, and 8 in the host cell. Together, this complex of proteins forms the moving junction, through which the parasite pushes itself during invasion. Rhomboid proteases on the parasite surface cleave AMA1 within its transmembrane domain and parasites expressing a non-cleavable form of AMA1 show reduced invasion of host cells and a growth defect. While much is known about the ectodomain of T. gondii AMA1 (TgAMA1), the fate of the TgAMA1 cytoplasmic tail after cleavage remains unclear, its interacting partners remain unidentified, and its role in invasion or thereafter remains a mystery.

To address these questions, we: (a) explored the consequences of TgAMA1-TgRON2 interaction during invasion and (b) generated allelic replacement (AR) parasites with point mutations across the tail of TgAMA1 to determine the effect of these mutations on the parasite's ability to invade host cells. Quantitative proteomic techniques were used to analyze the proteins that bind to the tail of TgAMA1 under these different experimental conditions. The results from this work highlight the importance of TgAMA1 post-translational modifications, and potentially TgAMA1-binding proteins, in regulating invasion-related processes in T. gondii.



Number of Pages

269 p.