Possible role of Toxoplasma gondii in brain cancer through modulation of host microRNAs
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Background: The obligate intracellular protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects humans and other warm-blooded animals and establishes a chronic infection in the central nervous system after invasion. Studies showing a positive correlation between anti-Toxoplasma antibodies and incidences of brain cancer have led to the notion that Toxoplasma infections increase the risk of brain cancer. However, molecular events involved in Toxoplasma induced brain cancers are not well understood. Presentation of the hypothesis: Toxoplasma gains control of host cell functions including proliferation and apoptosis by channelizing parasite proteins into the cell cytoplasm and some of the proteins are targeted to the host nucleus. Recent studies have shown that Toxoplasma is capable of manipulating host micro RNAs (miRNAs), which play a central role in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. Therefore, we hypothesize that Toxoplasma promotes brain carcinogenesis by altering the host miRNAome using parasitic proteins and/or miRNAs. Testing the hypothesis: The miRNA expression profiles of brain cancer specimens obtained from patients infected with Toxoplasma could be analyzed and compared with that of normal tissues as well as brain cancer tissues from Toxoplasma uninfected individuals to identify dysregulated miRNAs in Toxoplasma-driven brain cancer cells. Identified miRNAs will be further confirmed by studying cancer related miRNA profiles of the different types of brain cells before and after Toxoplasma infection using cell lines and experimental animals. Expected outcome: The miRNAs specifically associated with brain cancers that are caused by Toxoplasma infection will be identified. Implications of the hypothesis: Toxoplasma infection may promote initiation and progression of cancer by modifying the miRNAome in brain cells. If this hypothesis is true, the outcome of this research would lead to the development of novel biomarkers and therapeutic tools against Toxoplasma driven brain cancers.