The shape and form of the flagellated eukaryotic parasite Leishmania is sculpted to its ecological niches and needs to be transmitted to each generation with great fidelity. The shape of the Leishmania cell is defined by the sub-pellicular microtubule array and the positioning of the nucleus, kinetoplast and the flagellum within this array. The flagellum emerges from the anterior end of the cell body through an invagination of the cell body membrane called the flagellar pocket. Within the flagellar pocket the flagellum is laterally attached to the side of the flagellar pocket by a cytoskeletal structure called the flagellum attachment zone (FAZ). During the cell cycle single copy organelles duplicate with a new flagellum assembling alongside the old flagellum. These are then segregated between the two daughter cells by cytokinesis, which initiates at the anterior cell tip. Here, we have investigated the role of the FAZ in the morphogenesis of the anterior cell tip. We have deleted the FAZ filament protein, FAZ2 and investigated its function using light and electron microscopy and infection studies. The loss of FAZ2 caused a disruption to the membrane organisation at the anterior cell tip, resulting in cells that were connected to each other by a membranous bridge structure between their flagella. Moreover, the FAZ2 null mutant was unable to develop and proliferate in sand flies and had a reduced parasite burden in mice. Our study provides a deeper understanding of membrane-cytoskeletal interactions that define the shape and form of an individual cell and the remodelling of that form during cell division.
Leishmania are parasites that cause leishmaniasis in humans with symptoms ranging from mild cutaneous lesions to severe visceral disease. The life cycle of these parasites alternates between the human host and the sand fly vector, with distinct forms in both. These different forms have different cell shapes that are adapted for survival in these different environments. Leishmania parasites have an elongated cell shape with a flagellum extending from one end and this shape is due to a protein skeleton beneath the cell membrane. This skeleton is made up of different units one of which is called the flagellum attachment zone (FAZ), that connects the flagellum to the cell body. We have found that one of the proteins in the FAZ called FAZ2 is important for generating the shape of the cell at the point where the flagellum exits the cell. When we deleted FAZ2 we found that the cell membrane at the end of the cell was distorted resulting in unusual connections between the flagella of different cells. We found that the disruption to the cell shape reduces the ability of the parasite to infect mice and develop in the sand fly, which shows the importance of the parasite shape.