Heterologous expression in Toxoplasma gondii reveals a topogenic signal anchor in a Plasmodium apicoplast protein

FEBS Open Bio. 2018 Oct 22;8(11):1746-1762. doi: 10.1002/2211-5463.12527. eCollection 2018 Nov.


Glutathione peroxidase-like thioredoxin peroxidase (PfTPxGl) is an antioxidant enzyme trafficked to the apicoplast, a secondary endosymbiotic organelle, in Plasmodium falciparum. Apicoplast trafficking signals usually consist of N-terminal signal and transit peptides, but the trafficking signal of PfTPxGl appears to exhibit important differences. As transfection is a protracted process in P. falciparum, we expressed the N terminus of PfTPxGl as a GFP fusion protein in a related apicomplexan, Toxoplasma gondii, in order to dissect its trafficking signals. We show that PfTPxGl possesses an N-terminal signal anchor that takes the protein to the endoplasmic reticulum in Toxoplasma-this is the first step in the apicoplast targeting pathway. We dissected the residues important for endomembrane system uptake, membrane anchorage, orientation, spacing, and cleavage. Protease protection assays and fluorescence complementation revealed that the C terminus of the protein lies in the ER lumen, a topology that is proposed to be retained in the apicoplast. Additionally, we examined one mutant, responsible for altered PfTPxGl targeting in Toxoplasma, in Plasmodium. This study has demonstrated that PfTPxGl belongs to an emergent class of proteins that possess signal anchors, unlike the canonical bipartite targeting signals employed for the trafficking of luminal apicoplast proteins. This work adds to the mounting evidence that the signals involved in the targeting of apicoplast membrane proteins may not be as straightforward as those of luminal proteins, and also highlights the usefulness of T. gondii as a heterologous system in certain aspects of this study, such as reducing screening time and facilitating the verification of membrane topology.

Keywords: Plasmodium; Toxoplasma; apicoplast; signal anchor; split‐GFP; transmembrane.