Background: The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii establishes a life-long chronic infection within any warm-blooded host. After ingestion of an encysted parasite, T. gondii disseminates throughout the body as a rapidly replicating form during acute infection. Over time and after stimulation of the host immune response, T. gondii differentiates into a slow growing, cyst form that is the hallmark of chronic infection. Global transcriptome analysis of both host and parasite during the establishment of chronic T. gondii infection has not yet been performed. Here, we conducted a dual RNA-seq analysis of T. gondii and its rodent host to better understand host and parasite responses during acute and chronic infection.
Results: We obtained nearly one billion paired-end RNA sequences from the forebrains of uninfected, acutely and chronically infected mice, then aligned them to the genomic reference files of both T. gondii and Mus musculus. Gene ontology (GO) analysis of the 100 most highly expressed T. gondii genes showed less than half were shared between acute and chronic infection. The majority of the highly expressed genes common in both acute and chronic infection were involved in transcription and translation, underscoring that parasites in both stages are actively synthesizing proteins. Similarly, most of the T. gondii genes highly expressed during chronic infection were involved in metabolic processes, again highlighting the activity of the cyst stage at 28 days post-infection. Comparative analyses of host genes using uninfected forebrain revealed over twice as many immune regulatory genes were more abundant during chronic infection compared to acute. This demonstrates the influence of parasite development on host gene transcription as well as the influence of the host environment on parasite gene transcription.
Conclusions: RNA-seq is a valuable tool to simultaneously analyze host and microbe transcriptomes. Our data shows that T. gondii is metabolically active and synthesizing proteins at 28 days post-infection and that a distinct subset of host genes associated with the immune response are more abundant specifically during chronic infection. These data suggest host and pathogen interplay is still present during chronic infection and provides novel T. gondii targets for future drug and vaccine development.