Cysteine proteinases play a major role in invasion and intracellular survival of a number of pathogenic parasites. We cloned a single copy gene, tgcpl, from Toxoplasma gondii and refolded recombinant enzyme to yield active proteinase. Substrate specificity of the enzyme and homology modeling identified the proteinase as a cathepsin B. Specific cysteine proteinase inhibitors interrupted invasion by tachyzoites. The T. gondii cathepsin B localized to rhoptries, secretory organelles required for parasite invasion into cells. Processing of the pro-rhoptry protein 2 to mature rhoptry proteins was delayed by incubation of extracellular parasites with a cathepsin B inhibitor prior to pulse-chase immunoprecipitation. Delivery of cathepsin B to mature rhoptries was impaired in organisms with disruptions in rhoptry formation by expression of a dominant negative μ1-adaptin. Similar disruption of rhoptry formation was observed when infected fibroblasts were treated with a specific inhibitor of cathepsin B, generating small and poorly developed rhoptries. This first evidence for localization of a cysteine proteinase to the unusual rhoptry secretory organelle of an apicomplexan parasite suggests that the rhoptries may be a prototype of a lysosome-related organelle and provides a critical link between cysteine proteinases and parasite invasion for this class of organism.
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