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Int J Parasitol. 2007 Sep;37(11):1187-99. Epub 2007 Mar 30.

Over-expression of Leishmania major MAP kinases reveals stage-specific induction of phosphotransferase activity.

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Department of Medical and Molecular Parasitology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10010, USA.


During the infectious cycle, protozoan parasites undergo various developmental transitions and switch virulence factors in response to extracellular signals in insect vectors and human hosts. Despite the importance of environmental sensing in parasite pathogenicity, little is known about the pathways that transduce extracellular signals into stage-specific gene expression. Here, we used a transgenic approach to gain insight into localisation and activity of three green fluorescence protein (GFP)-tagged Leishmania major mitogen-activated protein kinases, LmaMPK4, 7 and 10. The GFP-LmaMPKs in both L. major and Leishmania donovani transgenic lines showed predominant cytoplasmic localisation and the over-expression had no effect on promastigote morphology, growth and the ability to differentiate into stationary-phase metacyclics for L. major and axenic amastigotes for L. donovani. We isolated the GFP-tagged MPKs from parasite extracts and tested their phosphotransferase activity across various culture conditions. For all three GFP-LmaMPKs, kinase activity was low or absent in promastigote extracts but significantly increased in L. major promastigotes after exposure to pH 5.5 and 34 degrees C, and in axenic L. donovani amastigotes. Enhanced activity correlated with increased GFP-LmaMPK phosphorylation as judged by phospho-specific fluorescent staining of the immuno-precipitated kinases. We could extend these findings to the endogenous LmaMPK10, which accumulated in the phospho-protein fraction of axenic amastigotes but not promastigotes, and thus follows the stage-specific phosphorylation profile of episomally expressed GFP-LmaMPK10. These results provide evidence for the functional conservation of Leishmania MAP kinases in parasite environmental sensing and underscore the potential of transgenic approaches to gain insight into signaling events during the Leishmania life cycle.

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