Induction of a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) deficiency in Trypanosoma cruzi by the heterologous expression of Trypanosoma brucei GPI- phospholipase C (GPI-PLC) results in decreased expression of major surface proteins (N. Garg, R. L. Tarleton, and K. Mensa-Wilmot, J. Biol. Chem. 272:12482-12491, 1997). To further explore the consequences of a GPI deficiency on replication and differentiation of T. cruzi, the in vitro and in vivo behaviors of GPI-PLC-expressing T. cruzi were studied. In comparison to wild-type controls, GPI-deficient T. cruzi epimastigotes exhibited a slight decrease in overall growth potential in culture. In the stationary phase of in vitro growth, GPI-deficient epimastigotes readily converted to metacyclic trypomastigotes and efficiently infected mammalian cells. However, upon conversion to amastigote forms within these host cells, the GPI- deficient parasites exhibited a limited capacity to replicate and subsequently failed to differentiate into trypomastigotes. Mice infected with GPI-deficient parasites showed a substantially lower rate of mortality, decreased tissue parasite burden, and a moderate tissue inflammatory response in comparison to those of mice infected with wild-type parasites. The decreased virulence exhibited by GPI-deficient parasites suggests that inhibition of GPI biosynthesis is a feasible strategy for chemotherapy of infections by T. cruzi and possibly other intracellular protozoan parasites.
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