Expanding the toolbox for Trypanosoma cruzi: A parasite line incorporating a bioluminescence-fluorescence dual reporter and streamlined CRISPR/Cas9 functionality for rapid in vivo localisation and phenotyping

02 Apr 2018
Costa FC, Francisco AF, Jayawardhana S, Calderano SG, Lewis MD, Olmo F, Beneke T, Gluenz E, Sunter J, Dean S, Kelly JM, Taylor MC

Background: Infection with Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas disease, a major public health problem throughout Latin America. There is no vaccine and the only drugs have severe side effects. Efforts to generate new therapies are hampered by limitations in our understanding of parasite biology and disease pathogenesis. Studies are compromised by the complexity of the disease, the long-term nature of the infection, and the fact that parasites are barely detectable during the chronic stage. In addition, functional dissection of T. cruzi biology has been restricted by the limited flexibility of the genetic manipulation technology applicable to this parasite.

Principal findings: Here, we describe two technical innovations, which will allow the role of the parasite in disease progression to be better assessed. First, we generated a T. cruzi reporter strain that expresses a fusion protein comprising red-shifted luciferase and green fluorescent protein domains. Bioluminescence allows the kinetics of infection to be followed within a single animal, and specific foci of infection to be pinpointed in excised tissues. Fluorescence can then be used to visualise individual parasites in tissue sections to study host-parasite interactions at a cellular level. Using this strategy, we have been routinely able to find individual parasites within chronically infected murine tissues for the first time. The second advance is the incorporation of a streamlined CRISPR/Cas9 functionality into this reporter strain that can facilitate genome editing using a PCR-based approach that does not require DNA cloning. This system allows the rapid generation of null mutants and fluorescently tagged parasites in a background where the in vivo phenotype can be rapidly assessed.

Conclusions: The techniques described here will have multiple applications for studying aspects of T. cruzi biology and Chagas disease pathogenesis previously inaccessible to conventional approaches. The reagents and cell lines have been generated as a community resource and are freely available on request.

Trypanosoma cruzi ; Chagas disease; disease pathogenesis; drug development