Toxoplasma gondii virulence factor ROP18 inhibits the host NF-kappaB pathway by promoting p65 degradation [Immunology]

March 19th, 2014 by Du, J., An, R., Chen, L., Shen, Y., Chen, Y., Cheng, L., Jiang, Z., Zhang, A., Yu, L., Chu, D., , Luo, Q., Chen, H., Wan, L., Li, M., Xu, X., Shen, J.

The obligate intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii secretes effector molecules into the host cell to modulate host immunity. Previous studies have shown that T. gondii could interfere with host NF-κB signaling to promote their survival, but the effectors of type I strains remains unclear. The polymorphic rhoptry protein ROP18 is a key serine/threonine kinase that phosphorylates host proteins to modulate acute virulence. Our data demonstrated that the N-terminal portion of ROP18 is associated with the dimerization domain of p65. ROP18 phosphorylates p65 at Ser468 and targets this protein to the ubiquitin-dependent degradation pathway. The kinase activity of ROP18 is required for p65 degradation and suppresses NF-κB activation. Consistently, compared with wild-type ROP18 strain, ROP18 kinase-deficient type I parasites displayed a severe inability to inhibit NF-κB, culminating in the enhanced production of IL-6, IL-12 and TNF-α in infected macrophages. In addition, studies have shown that transgenic parasites carrying kinase-deficient ROP18 induce M1-biased activation. These results demonstrate for the first time that the virulence factor ROP18 in T. gondii type I strains is responsible for inhibiting the host NF-κB pathway and for suppressing proinflammatory cytokine expression, thus providing a survival advantage to the infectious agent.