Infectious diseases cause widespread sickness throughout the world each year and are the second leading cause of death, particularly in underdeveloped countries. And with the emergence of multi-drug resistance strains, the necessity for new, more effective, and more sustainable therapies is immediate. Included in these infectious diseases are the apicomplexa which includes Toxoplasma gondii and Plasmodium falciparum, the parasites causing toxoplasmosis and malaria, respectively. These parasites contain a unique plastid-like organelle called an apicoplast which contains four membranes and therefore have evolved a complex system for importing and exporting proteins across these membranes. These essential import/export machineries are ideal targets for novel antibiotics against these pathogens. Many of these translocon machineries are also conserved in other higher eukaryotic organelles such as chloroplasts and mitochondria, where a large majority of genes are nuclear encoded and therefore must be imported post-translationally. One such machinery is the conserved translocon of the outer membrane in chloroplasts (TOC) complex from Arabidopsis thaliana, a model system for studying chloroplast biology. The TOC complex consists of primarily three components, Toc33/34 and Toc159, both GTPases containing an N-terminal transmembrane helix anchoring them into the outer membrane, and Toc75, a 16- stranded ?-barrel membrane-spanning translocon. While mechanistic models have been put forth for how the TOC complex functions, they have remained largely unproven due to the lack of structural characterization, which is needed to stitch together all the pieces of the mechanistic puzzle. In our studies, we will use biophysical methods, X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, and small-angle X-ray scattering to structurally and functionally characterize this specialized machinery. Our results will fill a longstanding gap in the field and will be essential for piecing together the mechanism for how the TOC complex functions in protein import in apicomplexa and chloroplasts.

Public Health Relevance

Apicomplexa consist of a large group of parasites that include Toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasmosis) and Plasmodium falciparum (malaria) and contain a unique plastid-like organelle called an apicoplast, containing four membranes and complex systems for trafficking proteins across the membranes. Many of the machineries are conserved in chloroplasts, a model system for studying these large complexes and assemblies. To piece together a mechanistic model for function, we will structurally and functionally characterize the Arabidopsis thaliana chloroplast translocation machinery called the TOC complex.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Membrane Biology and Protein Processing Study Section (MBPP)
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Flicker, Paula F
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Purdue University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
West Lafayette
United States
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