Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular parasite. When searching for a new cell to invade, the parasites have to confront the stress of being exposed to the extracellular environment. The mechanisms by which T. gondii survives outside the host cells are poorly understood. In this work we show that extracellular parasites form mRNA aggregates with characteristics of stress granules. Intracellular tachyzoites or bradyzoites do not form mRNA granules. We tested different stimuli that trigger granule formation in vitro and discovered that a buffer that mimics the host cell cytosol ionic composition (high potassium) strongly induces granule formation, suggesting that the granules arise when the parasites come in contact with the host cell cytosol during egress. We examined the importance of granule formation for parasite viability and show that the parasite populations that are able to form granules have a growth advantage, increased invasion, and decreased apoptosis in the extracellular environment. Overall, granule formation improves the fitness of extracellular parasites and increases the efficiency of the lytic cycle.
Keywords: RNA FISH, T gondii, stress granules, extracellularity, parasite fitness.