Not a simple tether: binding of Toxoplasma gondii AMA1 to RON2 during invasion protects AMA1 from rhomboid-mediated cleavage and leads to dephosphorylation of its cytosolic tail


Apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1) is a receptor protein on the surface of Toxoplasma gondii that plays a critical role in host cell invasion. The ligand to which T gondii AMA1 (TgAMA1) binds, TgRON2, is secreted into the host cell membrane by the parasite during the early stages of invasion. The TgAMA1-TgRON2 complex forms the core of the "moving junction," a ring-shaped zone of tight contact between the parasite and host cell membranes, through which the parasite pushes itself during invasion. Paradoxically, the parasite also expresses rhomboid proteases that constitutively cleave the TgAMA1 transmembrane domain. How can TgAMA1 function effectively in host cell binding if its extracellular domain is constantly shed from the parasite surface? We show here that when TgAMA1 binds the domain 3 (D3) peptide of TgRON2, its susceptibility to cleavage by rhomboid protease(s) is greatly reduced. This likely serves to maintain parasite-host cell binding at the moving junction, a hypothesis supported by data showing that parasites expressing a hypercleavable version of TgAMA1 invade less efficiently than wild-type parasites do. Treatment of parasites with the D3 peptide was also found to reduce phosphorylation of S527 on the cytoplasmic tail of TgAMA1, and parasites expressing a phosphomimetic S527D allele of TgAMA1 showed an invasion defect. Taken together, these data suggest that TgAMA1-TgRON2 interaction at the moving junction protects TgAMA1 molecules that are actively engaged in host cell penetration from rhomboid-mediated cleavage and generates an outside-in signal that leads to dephosphorylation of the TgAMA1 cytosolic tail. Both of these effects are required for maximally efficient host cell invasion.

Journal details

Journal mBio
Volume 7
Issue number 5
Pages e00754-16
Available online
Publication date