Pasquarelli, Rebecca

Mentor: Dr. Peter Bradley

Research project:

Toxoplasma gondiiis a single-celled parasite that infects nearly 30% of the world’s population. While most people can have a chronic Toxoplasma infection without showing any symptoms, toxoplasmosis can be deadly for immunocompromised individuals (such as AIDS or organ transplant patients) and developing neonates. In addition, Toxoplasma is closely related to Plasmodium parasites (the causative agent of malaria) and therefore can serve as a model system. By studying the cell biology of Toxoplasma, we are able to inform drug and vaccine development for both Toxoplasma and Plasmodium. My work in the Bradley lab focuses on studying two key organelles in Toxoplasma.

The inner membrane complex (IMC) is a unique organelle comprised of peripheral membrane system with an underlying cytoskeletal framework. The IMC provides structural integrity to the cell and is critical for invading host cells, replicating, and egressing. During replication, the IMC acts as a scaffold for developing daughter cells. Some proteins are specifically expressed in the developing daughter IMC and are essential for parasite survival and replication. One of my projects focuses on investigating the specific functions of daughter IMC-enriched proteins, as they are potential drug targets. Toxoplasma has a variety of other parasite-specific organelles that have secretory function and are dependent on protein sorting by the Golgi apparatus. We have identified several Golgi proteins which are essential and cause disruption to downstream parasite-specific secretory organelles when knocked down. This suggests that there may be proteins that are specific to Toxoplasma and related parasites which are critical for the formation of essential organelles. A second focus of mine is trying to identify these proteins and analyze their function.