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The Intracellular Parasite Toxoplasma gondii Harbors Three Druggable FNT-Type Formate and L-Lactate Transporters in the Plasma Membrane

Erler, H;Ren, B;Gupta, N;Beitz, E;

Toxoplasma gondii is a globally prevalent parasitic protist. It is well known for its ability to infect almost all nucleated vertebrate cells, which is reflected by its unique metabolic architecture. Its fast-growing tachyzoite stage catabolizes glucose via glycolysis to yield L-lactate as a major byproduct that must be exported from the cell to prevent toxicity; the underlying mechanism remains to be elucidated, however. Herein, we report three formate-nitrite transporter (FNT)-type monocarboxylate/proton symporters located in the plasma membrane of the T. gondii tachyzoite stage. We observed that all three proteins transport both L-lactate and formate in a pH-dependent manner and are inhibited by 2-hydroxy-chromanones (a class of small synthetic molecules). We also show that these compounds pharmacologically inhibit T. gondii growth. Using a chemical biology approach, we identified the critical residues in the substrate-selectivity region of the parasite transporters that determine differential specificity and sensitivity toward both substrates and inhibitors. Our findings further indicate that substrate specificity in FNT family proteins from T. gondii has evolved such that a functional repurposing of prokaryotic-type transporters helps fulfill a critical metabolic role in a clinically important parasitic protist.  In summary, we have identified and characterized the lactate transporters of T. gondii and have shown that compounds blocking the FNTs in this parasite can inhibit its growth, suggesting that these transporters could have utility as potential drug targets. Published under license by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.