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Mol Biol Cell. 2006 Feb;17(2):895-906. Epub 2005 Nov 30.

Unusual kinetic and structural properties control rapid assembly and turnover of actin in the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology, Center for Infectious Diseases, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Toxoplasma is a protozoan parasite in the phylum Apicomplexa, which contains a number of medically important parasites that rely on a highly unusual form of motility termed gliding to actively penetrate their host cells. Parasite actin filaments regulate gliding motility, yet paradoxically filamentous actin is rarely detected in these parasites. To investigate the kinetics of this unusual parasite actin, we expressed TgACT1 in baculovirus and purified it to homogeneity. Biochemical analysis showed that Toxoplasma actin (TgACT1) rapidly polymerized into filaments at a critical concentration that was 3-4-fold lower than conventional actins, yet it failed to copolymerize with mammalian actin. Electron microscopic analysis revealed that TgACT1 filaments were 10 times shorter and less stable than rabbit actin. Phylogenetic comparison of actins revealed a limited number of apicomplexan-specific residues that likely govern the unusual behavior of parasite actin. Molecular modeling identified several key alterations that affect interactions between monomers and that are predicted to destabilize filaments. Our findings suggest that conserved molecular differences in parasite actin favor rapid cycles of assembly and disassembly that govern the unusual form of gliding motility utilized by apicomplexans.

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