Nucleoside triphosphate hydrolase (NTPase) is a very abundant protein secreted by the obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii shortly after invasion of the host cell. When activated by dithiols, NTPase is one of the most potent apyrases known to date, but its physiological function remains unknown. The genes encoding NTPase have been cloned (Bermudes, D., Peck, K. R., Afifi-Afifi, M., Beckers, C. J. M., and Joiner, K. A. (1994) J. Biol. Chem. 269, 29252-29260). We have recently shown that the enzyme is tightly controlled within the vacuolar space and may influence parasite exit from the host cell (Silverman, J. A., Qi, H., Riehl, A., Beckers, C., Nakaar, V., and Joiner, K. A (1998) J. Biol. Chem. 273, 1235212359). In the present study, we have generated an antisense NTP RNA construct in which the 3'- untranslated region is replaced by a hammerhead ribozyme. The constitutive synthesis of the chimeric antisense RNA-ribozyme construct in parasites that were stably transfected with this construct resulted in a dramatic reduction in the steady-state levels of NTPase. This inhibition was accompanied by a decrease in the capacity of the parasites to replicate. The reduction in parasite proliferation was due to a specific effect of antisense NTP RNA, since a drastic inhibition of hypoxanthinexanthine-guanine phosphoribosyl transferase (HXGPRT) expression by a chimeric antisense HXGPRT RNA-ribozyme construct did not alter NTPase expression nor compromise parasite replication. These data implicate NTPase in an essential parasite function and suggest that NTPase may have more than one function in vivo. These results also establish that it is possible to study gene function in apicomplexan parasites using antisense RNA coupled to ribozymes.
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