Membrane biogenesis and interactions with the host cell in Plasmodium and Toxoplasma (M. Lebrun / C. Braun-Breton)

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Activities are mainly focused on cell and molecular biology issues of two Apicomplexa parasites, Plasmodium falciparum (Malaria) and Toxoplasma gondii (Toxoplasmosis). They have developed a number of fascinating cell biological processes, in response to their parasitic life style. The objectives are to clarify processes that could be major and/or are essential for the differentiation and development of these parasites in their host cells and to determine original features in term of biological processes versus mammalian cells for example.

RESEARCH PROJECTS

THEME 1: Cell biology of apicomplexan parasites

Theme leader : Dr. Maryse Lebrun

We are interested in the cellular and molecular mechanisms that enable apicomplexan parasites to infect and develop inside host. Apicomplexan are single-celled eukaryotes parasites. They are important pathogens of humans and domestic animals. They include Plasmodium spp. the causative agent of malaria. Malaria is responsible for almost half million human deaths per year and increasing drug-resistance is a considerable concern. It also includes Toxoplasma, a prominent cause of human congenital infections and Cryptosporidium, a leading cause of severe diarrhea and mortality in infants. No vaccine currently exists against these parasites.
The objectives of our team are to decipher cellular and molecular features related to two essential parasitic functions: host cell invasion and intracellular replication, with the aim of identifying novel therapeutic strategies. Our research is mainly focused on T. gondii, which is a relevant model for many features conserved throughout the phylum. We then extend our most important discoveries to the malaria parasite. We use a broad array of cell biological and biochemical approaches, as well as state-of the art molecular genetics and genome editing.
Our team has received a team label from ‘Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale’ (‘Medical Research Foundation’ – FRM) both in 2013 and in 2016

THEME 2: Molecular approaches for new antimalarial strategies

Theme leader : Pr. Rachel Cerdan

Our research activities are focused on the phospholipid metabolism in P. falciparum and on the assessment of the antimalarial potential of new compounds. The phospholipid (PL) metabolism in P. falciparum is unique in its intensity and in the multiplicity of pathways combining routes found in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In a red blood cell infected by P. falciparum, the main PLs are phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylinositol and several pathways coexist for their biosynthesis involving a dozen enzymes. To shed light on PL metabolism in the malaria parasite, we combine lipidomic, genetic, molecular biology and structural biology approaches.

THEME 3: Remodelling of the host cell by Plasmodium falciparum blood stages

Theme leader : Pr. Catherine Braun-Breton

Our research focuses on P. falciparum-induced changes of its host erythrocyte. Our main objectives are to decipher the roles of Maurer’s clefts, a membrane compartment transposed by the parasite at the periphery of its host cell and to characterize the parasite-induced changes of the erythrocyte membrane and cytoskeleton crucial for parasite entry into and egress from the red blood cell.

Heads of the team

Maryse LEBRUN
Research Director (DR) INSERM
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Catherine BRAUN-BRETON
Professor (PR) UM
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LPHI  Laboratory of Pathogen Host Interactions
UMR 5235 - Université Montpellier
Place Eugène Bataillon, Bât. 24, CC107, 2ème étage
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