Apicomplexan parasites use a specialized cilium structure called the apical complex to organize their secretory organelles and invasion machinery. The apical complex is integrally associated with both the parasite plasma membrane and an intermediate filament cytoskeleton called the inner-membrane complex (IMC). While the apical complex is essential to the parasitic lifestyle, little is known about the regulation of apical complex biogenesis. Here, we identify AC9 (apical cap protein 9), a largely intrinsically disordered component of the Toxoplasma gondii IMC, as essential for apical complex development, and therefore for host cell invasion and egress. Parasites lacking AC9 fail to successfully assemble the tubulin-rich core of their apical complex, called the conoid. We use proximity biotinylation to identify the AC9 interaction network, which includes the kinase extracellular signal-regulated kinase 7 (ERK7). Like AC9, ERK7 is required for apical complex biogenesis. We demonstrate that AC9 directly binds ERK7 through a conserved C-terminal motif and that this interaction is essential for ERK7 localization and function at the apical cap. The crystal structure of the ERK7-AC9 complex reveals that AC9 is not only a scaffold but also inhibits ERK7 through an unusual set of contacts that displaces nucleotide from the kinase active site. ERK7 is an ancient and autoactivating member of the mitogen-activated kinase (MAPK) family and its regulation is poorly understood in all organisms. We propose that AC9 dually regulates ERK7 by scaffolding and concentrating it at its site of action while maintaining it in an "off" state until the specific binding of a true substrate.
Keywords: cilium; intrinsically disordered protein; kinase; scaffold.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.