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Infect Immun. 2011 Oct;79(10):4081-7. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05403-11. Epub 2011 Jul 25.

Neurotrophin receptor TrkC is an entry receptor for Trypanosoma cruzi in neural, glial, and epithelial cells.

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  • 1Graduate Program in Immunology, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Department of Pathology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


Trypanosoma cruzi, the agent of Chagas' disease, infects a variety of mammalian cells in a process that includes multiple cycles of intracellular division and differentiation starting with host receptor recognition by a parasite ligand(s). Earlier work in our laboratory showed that the neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) receptor TrkC is activated by T. cruzi surface trans-sialidase, also known as parasite-derived neurotrophic factor (PDNF). However, it has remained unclear whether TrkC is used by T. cruzi to enter host cells. Here, we show that a neuronal cell line (PC12-NNR5) relatively resistant to T. cruzi became highly susceptible to infection when overexpressing human TrkC but not human TrkB. Furthermore, trkC transfection conferred an ∼3.0-fold intracellular growth advantage. Sialylation-deficient Chinese hamster ovarian (CHO) epithelial cell lines Lec1 and Lec2 also became much more permissive to T. cruzi after transfection with the trkC gene. Additionally, NT-3 specifically blocked T. cruzi infection of the TrkC-NNR5 transfectants and of naturally permissive TrkC-bearing Schwann cells and astrocytes, as did recombinant PDNF. Two specific inhibitors of Trk autophosphorylation (K252a and AG879) and inhibitors of Trk-induced MAPK/Erk (U0126) and Akt kinase (LY294002) signaling, but not an inhibitor of insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, abrogated TrkC-mediated cell invasion. Antibody to TrkC blocked T. cruzi infection of the TrkC-NNR5 transfectants and of cells that naturally express TrkC. The TrkC antibody also significantly and specifically reduced cutaneous infection in a mouse model of acute Chagas' disease. TrkC is ubiquitously expressed in the peripheral and central nervous systems, and in nonneural cells infected by T. cruzi, including cardiac and gastrointestinal muscle cells. Thus, TrkC is implicated as a functional PDNF receptor in cell entry, independently of sialic acid recognition, mediating broad T. cruzi infection both in vitro and in vivo.

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