A conditional protein degradation system to study essential gene function in cryptosporidium parvum

Hadi H. Choudhary, Maria G. Nava, Brina E. Gartlan, Savannah Rose, Sumiti Vinayak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cryptosporidium spp., protozoan parasites, are a leading cause of global diarrhea-associated morbidity and mortality in young children and immunocompro-mised individuals. The limited efficacy of the only available drug and lack of vaccines make it challenging to treat and prevent cryptosporidiosis. Therefore, the identification of essential genes and understanding their biological functions are critical for the development of new therapies. Currently, there is no genetic tool available to investigate the function of essential genes in Cryptosporidium spp. Here, we de-scribe the development of the first conditional system in Cryptosporidium parvum. Our system utilizes the Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase degradation domain (DDD) and the stabilizing compound trimethoprim (TMP) for conditional regulation of protein levels in the parasite. We tested our system on the calcium-dependent protein kinase-1 (CDPK1), a leading drug target in C. parvum. By direct knockout strategy, we establish that cdpk1 is refractory to gene deletion, indicating its essenti-ality for parasite survival. Using CRISPR/Cas9, we generated transgenic parasites ex-pressing CDPK1 with an epitope tag, and localization studies indicate its expression during asexual parasite proliferation. We then genetically engineered C. parvum to express CDPK1 tagged with DDD. We demonstrate that TMP can regulate CDPK1 levels in this stable transgenic parasite line, thus revealing the critical role of this kinase in parasite proliferation. Further, these transgenic parasites show TMP-mediated regulation of CDPK1 levels in vitro and an increased sensitivity to kinase inhibitor upon conditional knockdown. Overall, this study reports the development of a pow-erful conditional system that can be used to study essential genes in Cryptospo-ridium. IMPORTANCE Cryptosporidium parvum and Cryptosporidium hominis are leading pathogens responsible for diarrheal disease (cryptosporidiosis) and deaths in infants and children below 5 years of age. There are no effective treatment options and no vaccine for cryptosporidiosis. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify essential gene targets and uncover their biological function to accelerate the development of new and effective anticryptosporidial drugs. Current genetic tool allows targeted dis-ruption of gene function but leads to parasite lethality if the gene is essential for survival. In this study, we have developed a genetic tool for conditional degradation of proteins in Cryptosporidium spp., thus allowing us to study the function of essential genes. Our conditional system expands the molecular toolbox for Cryptospo-ridium, and it will help us to understand the biology of this important human diarrheal pathogen for the development of new drugs and vaccines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01231-20
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Apicomplexan parasite
  • CRISPR/Cas9
  • Conditional system
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Drug targets
  • Molecular genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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