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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 2;109(40):16312-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205589109. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

CD73-generated adenosine facilitates Toxoplasma gondii differentiation to long-lived tissue cysts in the central nervous system.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan pathogen that traffics to the central nervous system (CNS) following invasion of its host. In the CNS, T. gondii undergoes transformation from a rapidly dividing tachyzoite to a long-lived, slow-dividing bradyzoite contained within cysts. The role of extracellular adenosine in T. gondii pathogenesis has not been previously investigated. T. gondii uses host purines such as adenosine for its energy needs, as it is unable to make its own. Here, we show that CD73(-/-) mice, which lack the ability to generate extracellular adenosine, are protected from T. gondii chronic infection, with significantly fewer cysts and reduced susceptibility to reactivation of infection in the CNS independent of host effector function. Parasite dissemination to the brain was unimpaired in CD73(-/-) hosts, suggesting that the reduced cyst number is due to impaired parasite differentiation in the CNS. Confirming this, T. gondii tachyzoites formed fewer cysts following alkaline pH stress in astrocytes isolated from CD73(-/-) mice compared with wild type, and in fibroblasts treated with a CD73 inhibitor. Cyst formation was rescued in CD73(-/-) astrocytes supplemented with adenosine, but not with adenosine receptor agonist 5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine. Furthermore, mice lacking adenosine receptors had no defect in cyst formation. Based on these findings, we conclude that CD73 expression promotes Toxoplasma bradyzoite differentiation and cyst formation by a mechanism dependent on the generation of adenosine, but independent of adenosine receptor signaling. Overall, these findings suggest that modulators of extracellular adenosine may be used to develop therapies aimed at defending against human toxoplasmosis.

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