Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular parasite that infects a wide range of warm-blooded species. Rats vary in their susceptibility to this parasite. The Toxo1 locus conferring Toxoplasma resistance in rats was previously mapped to a region of chromosome 10 containing Nlrp1. This gene encodes an inflammasome sensor controlling macrophage sensitivity to anthrax lethal toxin (LT) induced rapid cell death (pyroptosis). We show here that rat strain differences in Toxoplasma infected macrophage sensitivity to pyroptosis, IL-1β/IL-18 processing, and inhibition of parasite proliferation are perfectly correlated with NLRP1 sequence, while inversely correlated with sensitivity to anthrax LT-induced cell death. Using recombinant inbred rats, SNP analyses and whole transcriptome gene expression studies, we narrowed the candidate genes for control of Toxoplasma-mediated rat macrophage pyroptosis to four genes, one of which was Nlrp1. Knockdown of Nlrp1 in pyroptosis-sensitive macrophages resulted in higher parasite replication and protection from cell death. Reciprocally, overexpression of the NLRP1 variant from Toxoplasma-sensitive macrophages in pyroptosis-resistant cells led to sensitization of these resistant macrophages. Our findings reveal Toxoplasma as a novel activator of the NLRP1 inflammasome in rat macrophages.
Inflammasomes are multiprotein complexes that are a major component of the innate immune system. They contain “sensor” proteins that are responsible for detecting various microbial and environmental danger signals and function by activating caspase-1, an enzyme that mediates cleavage and release of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, IL-1β and IL-18. Toxoplasma gondii is a highly successful protozoan parasite capable of infecting a wide range of host species that have variable levels of resistance. Rat strains have been previously shown to vary in their susceptibility to this parasite. We report here that rat macrophages from different inbred strains also vary in sensitivity to Toxoplasma induced lysis. We find that NLRP1, an inflammasome sensor whose only known agonist is anthrax LT, is also activated by Toxoplasma infection. In rats there is a perfect correlation between NLRP1 sequence and macrophage sensitivity to Toxoplasma-induced rapid cell death, inhibition of parasite proliferation, and IL-1β/IL-18 processing. Nlrp1 genes from sensitive rat macrophages can confer sensitivity to this rapid cell death when expressed in Toxoplasma resistant rat macrophages. Our findings suggest Toxoplasma is a new activator of the NLRP1 inflammasome.