myo-Inositol is a building block for all inositol-containing phospholipids in eukaryotes. It can be synthesized de novo from glucose-6-phosphate in the cytosol and endoplasmic reticulum. Alternatively, it can be taken up from the environment via Na(+)- or H(+)-linked myo-inositol transporters. While Na(+)-coupled myo-inositol transporters are found exclusively in the plasma membrane, H(+)-linked myo-inositol transporters are detected in intracellular organelles. In Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of human African sleeping sickness, myo-inositol metabolism is compartmentalized. De novo-synthesized myo-inositol is used for glycosylphosphatidylinositol production in the endoplasmic reticulum, whereas the myo-inositol taken up from the environment is used for bulk phosphatidylinositol synthesis in the Golgi complex. We now provide evidence that the Golgi complex-localized T. brucei H(+)-linked myo-inositol transporter (TbHMIT) is essential in bloodstream-form T. brucei. Downregulation of TbHMIT expression by RNA interference blocked phosphatidylinositol production and inhibited growth of parasites in culture. Characterization of the transporter in a heterologous expression system demonstrated a remarkable selectivity of TbHMIT for myo-inositol. It tolerates only a single modification on the inositol ring, such as the removal of a hydroxyl group or the inversion of stereochemistry at a single hydroxyl group relative to myo-inositol.
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