Treeck lab

Signalling in Apicomplexan Parasites Laboratory

: Areas of interest

The malaria causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii are parasites that infect and live within human cells.


How do Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii regulate their own exported proteins?

Figure 1: How do Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii regulate their own exported proteins? Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii export a number of proteins beyond their own plasma membranes (green) into the host cell and the parasitophorous vacuole (yellow), which separates the parasites from the host-cell cytoplasm. Many of the proteins are found to be phosphorylated, an indicator that they are subject to regulation. Both parasites also export a number of kinases into the host cell, but the targets and the pathways they regulate are not known.

Parasites are subversive; they bend their environment to their own ends. Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii are two of a large group of parasites (the Apicomplexans) that invade host cells and then subvert those cells normal biology to allow their own development.

In the instance of the malaria parasite this has severe consequences, ~1 million people each year die of malaria and 200-500 million are getting infected with severe impact on the people living in the affected countries. For Toxoplasmaparasites the impact is much less severe.

While around 30% of the world's population is infected, in the majority of cases the parasites are well controlled by the immune-system and remain dormant in the hosts tissues for life. However, during pregnancy or when the immune-system is dysfunctional, be it during immune-suppressive therapy or in AIDS patients, the parasite becomes a real threat.Both parasites live in a very different biological niche but immune evasion (which is often accomplished by host-cell subversion) and transmission are key to their ability to live a parasitic lifestyle.

To better understand what makes these parasites so successful we aim to identify key proteins important for immune-evasion, dissemination in the body and transmission. Many questions we ask are related to signalling as this allows us to interrogate interactions of proteins that underpin biological processes using quantitative mass-spectrometry - a key technology we use in the lab. In conjunction with biochemical, cell-biological and genetic tools this allows us to uncover exciting and novel biology that may well form the basis for future intervention strategies.

The lab currently consists of 6 Postdocs and 3 PhD students with a mixed background ranging from chemistry, immunology, biochemistry and host-pathogen interaction. Our aim is to create a diverse, stimulating and critical working environment with a good and long-term funding base that allows people to take on exciting and challenging projects and lay a basis for their future careers.

In addition to our Crick core funding, we also receive funding from the US National Institute of Health and the European Research Council.

Selected publications