Novel approaches reveal that toxoplasma gondii bradyzoites within tissue cysts are dynamic and replicating entities in vivo

Elizabeth Watts, Yihua Zhao, Animesh Dhara, Becca Eller, Abhijit Patwardhan, Anthony P. Sinai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Despite their critical role in chronic toxoplasmosis, the biology of Toxoplasma gondii bradyzoites is poorly understood. In an attempt to address this gap, we optimized approaches to purify tissue cysts and analyzed the replicative potential of bradyzoites within these cysts. In order to quantify individual bradyzoites within tissue cysts, we have developed imaging software, BradyCount 1.0, that allows the rapid establishment of bradyzoite burdens within imaged optical sections of purified tissue cysts. While in general larger tissue cysts contain more bradyzoites, their relative “occupancy” was typically lower than that of smaller cysts, resulting in a lower packing density. The packing density permits a direct measure of how bradyzoites develop within cysts, allowing for comparisons across progression of the chronic phase. In order to capture bradyzoite endodyogeny, we exploited the differential intensity of TgIMC3, an inner membrane complex protein that intensely labels newly formed/forming daughters within bradyzoites and decays over time in the absence of further division. To our surprise, we were able to capture not only sporadic and asynchronous division but also synchronous replication of all bradyzoites within mature tissue cysts. Furthermore, the time-dependent decay of TgIMC3 intensity was exploited to gain insights into the temporal patterns of bradyzoite replication in vivo. Despite the fact that bradyzoites are considered replicatively dormant, we find evidence for cyclical, episodic bradyzoite growth within tissue cysts in vivo. These findings directly challenge the prevailing notion of bradyzoites as dormant nonreplicative entities in chronic toxoplasmosis and have implications on our understanding of this enigmatic and clinically important life cycle stage.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01155-15
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Watts et al.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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