Lack of mitochondrial MutS homolog 1 in Toxoplasma gondii disrupts maintenance and fidelity of mitochondrial DNA and reveals metabolic plasticity

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The importance of maintaining the fidelity of the mitochondrial genome is underscored by the presence of various repair pathways within this organelle. Presumably, the repair of mitochondrial DNA would be of particular importance in organisms that possess only a single mitochondrion, like the human pathogens Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii. Understanding the machinery that maintains mitochondrial DNA in these parasites is of particular relevance, as mitochondrial function is a validated and effective target for anti-parasitic drugs. We previously determined that the Toxoplasma MutS homolog TgMSH1 localizes to the mitochondrion. MutS homologs are key components of the nuclear mismatch repair system in mammalian cells, and both yeast and plants possess MutS homologs that localize to the mitochondria where they regulate DNA stability. Here we show that the lack of TgMSH1 results in accumulation of single nucleotide variations in mitochondrial DNA and a reduction in mitochondrial DNA content. Additionally, parasites lacking TgMSH1 function can survive treatment with the cytochrome b inhibitor atovaquone. While the Tgmsh1 knockout strain has several missense mutations in cytochrome b, none affect amino acids known to be determinants of atovaquone sensitivity and atovaquone is still able to inhibit electron transport in the Tgmsh1 mutants. Furthermore, culture of Tgmsh1 mutant in the presence atovaquone leads to parasites with enhanced atovaquone resistance and complete shutdown of respiration. Thus, parasites lacking TgMSH1 overcome the disruption of mitochondrial DNA by adapting their physiology allowing them to forgo the need for oxidative phosphorylation. Consistent with this idea, the Tgmsh1 mutant is resistant to mitochondrial inhibitors with diverse targets and exhibits reduced ability to grow in the absence of glucose. This work shows TgMSH1 as critical for the maintenance and fidelity of the mitochondrial DNA in Toxoplasma, reveals a novel mechanism for atovaquone resistance, and exposes the physiological plasticity of this important human pathogen.




Garbuz, T., & Arrizabalaga, G. (2017). Lack of mitochondrial MutS homolog 1 in Toxoplasma gondii disrupts maintenance and fidelity of mitochondrial DNA and reveals metabolic plasticity. PLoS ONE, 12(11).

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