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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 29;107(26):11965-70. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1004599107. Epub 2010 Jun 15.

Expansion of the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase family and function in Leishmania shows that TOR3 is required for acidocalcisome biogenesis and animal infectivity.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Target of rapamycin (TOR) kinases are key regulators of cell growth, proliferation, and structure in eukaryotes, processes that are highly coordinated during the infectious cycle of eukaryotic pathogens. Database mining revealed three TOR kinases in the trypanosomatid parasite Leishmania major, as defined by homology to the phosphoinositide 3-kinase-related kinase (PIKK) family and a signature conserved FKBP12/rapamycin-binding domain. Consistent with the essential roles of TOR complexes in other organisms, we were unable to generate null TOR1 or TOR2 mutants in cultured L. major promastigotes. In contrast, tor3(-) null mutants were readily obtained; while exhibiting somewhat slower growth, tor3(-) maintained normal morphology, rapamycin sensitivity, and differentiation into the animal-infective metacyclic stage. Significantly, tor3(-) mutants were unable to survive or replicate in macrophages in vitro, or to induce pathology or establish infections in mice in vivo. The loss of virulence was associated with a defect in acidocalcisome formation, as this unique organelle was grossly altered in tor3- mutants and no longer accumulated polyphosphates. Correspondingly, tor3- mutants showed defects in osmoregulation and were sensitive to starvation for glucose but not amino acids, glucose being a limiting nutrient in the parasitophorous vacuole. Thus, in Leishmania, the TOR kinase family has expanded to encompass a unique role in AC function and biology, one that is essential for parasite survival in the mammalian infective stage. Given their important roles in cell survival and virulence, inhibition of TOR kinase function in trypanosomatids offers an attractive target for chemotherapy.

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