Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular protozoan parasite capable of causing devastating infections in immunocompromised and immunologically immature individuals. In this report, we demonstrate the relative independence of T. gondii from its host cell for aminoglycerophospholipid synthesis. The parasite can acquire the lipid precursors serine, ethanolamine, and choline from its environment and use them for the synthesis of its major lipids, phosphatidylserine (PtdSer), phosphatidylethanolamine (PtdEtn), and phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho), respectively. Dimethylethanolamine (Etn(Me) 2), a choline analog, dramatically interfered with the PtdCho metabolism of T. gondii and caused a marked inhibition of its growth within human foreskin fibroblasts. In tissue culture medium supplemented with 2 mM Etn(Me)2, the parasite-induced lysis of the host cells was dramatically attenuated, and the production of parasites was inhibited by more than 99%. The disruption of parasite growth was paralleled by structural abnormalities in its membranes. In contrast, no negative effect on host cell growth and morphology was observed. The data also reveal that the Etn(Me) 2-supplemented parasite had a time-dependent decrease in its PtdCho content and an equivalent increase in phosphatidyldimethylethanolamine, whereas other major lipids, PtdSer, PtdEtn, and PtdIns, remained largely unchanged. Relative to host cells, the parasites incorporated more than 7 times as much Etn(Me)2 into their phospholipid. These findings reveal that Etn(Me)2 selectively alters parasite lipid metabolism and demonstrate how selective inhibition of PtdCho synthesis is a powerful approach to arresting parasite growth.
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