A high frequency of nonhomologous recombination has hampered gene targeting approaches in the model apicomplexan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. To address whether the nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) DNA repair pathway could be disrupted in this obligate intracellular parasite, putative KU proteins were identified and a predicted KU80 gene was deleted. The efficiency of gene targeting via double-crossover homologous recombination at several genetic loci was found to be greater than 97% of the total transformants in KU80 knockouts. Gene replacement efficiency was markedly increased (300- to 400-fold) in KU80 knockouts compared to wild-type strains. Target DNA flanks of only approximately 500 bp were found to be sufficient for efficient gene replacements in KU80 knockouts. KU80 knockouts stably retained a normal growth rate in vitro and the high virulence phenotype of type I strains but exhibited an increased sensitivity to double-strand DNA breaks induced by treatment with phleomycin or gamma-irradiation. Collectively, these results revealed that a significant KU-dependent NHEJ DNA repair pathway is present in Toxoplasma gondii. Integration essentially occurs only at the homologous targeted sites in the KU80 knockout background, making this genetic background an efficient host for gene targeting to speed postgenome functional analysis and genetic dissection of parasite biology.
Fox, Barbara A.; Ristuccia, Jessica G.; Gigley, Jason P.; and Bzik, David J., "Efficient Gene Replacements in Toxoplasma gondii Strains Deficient for Nonhomologous End Joining" (2009). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 827.