Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) causes Chagas Disease (e.g., American Trypanosomiasis) in humans. This infection is endemic to Latin America;however, due to immigration from endemic areas, Chagas Disease is found in both Europe and the United States. What is striking about infection with T. cruzi is the development of chronic infection with disease symptoms manifesting decades after the acute infection. Research on T. cruzi has been limited by the difficulties in genetic manipulation. We used a modified pTREX vector with a ligand-controlled destabilization domain (ddFKBP) to regulate a gene/protein of interest. This vector system allows rapid and reversible protein expression and efficient functional analysis of proteins in different T. cruzi life cycle stages. Using this technique, we found that two mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPK), TcMAPK1 and TcMAPK3, are essential for T. cruzi. We plan to develop a conditional gene deletion system based on our ddFKBPpTREX vector system. In addition, quickly over-expressing a lethal gene in a regulated fashion should be feasible in the ddFKBP system and this can be done in multiple T. cruzi isolates using the same vector construct without any need to genetically modify the isolates. Such an inducible lethal phenotype T. cruzi would be very useful for pathogenesis studies allowing elimination of the organism at various time points after infection to dissect the mechanisms of disease causation. These parasites would also facilitate studies on immune stimulation and provide data for the development of new vaccine strategies for this infection. We, therefore, propose to: (1) develop a robust conditional knockout vector system using TcMAPK1 and TcMAPK3, essential genes for T. cruzi growth, based on our ddFKBPpTREX vectors. This system should be useful for the manipulation of other essential genes in this parasite;and (2) we will also create vector systems for T. cruzi that allow the regulated expression of toxin genes that will kill this parasite when these genes are expressed.
The overall project is to develop a robust conditional knockout vector system using TcMAPK1 and TcMAPK3 which are essential genes for T. cruzi growth and to create T. cruzi strains carrying toxin genes that will kill this parasite when these genes are induced, based on our ddFKBPpTREX vectors. The conditional knockout vector system should be useful for the manipulation of other essential genes in this parasite. The transgenic parasites will be valuable for studies on pathogeneses and the host immune response.