Arginase plays a pivotal role in polyamine precursor metabolism in Leishmania: Characterization of gene deletion mutants

Sigrid C. Roberts, Michael J. Tancer, Michelle R. Polinsky, K. Michael Gibson, Olle Heby, Buddy Ullman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


The polyamine pathway of protozoan parasites has been successfully targeted in anti-parasitic therapies and is significantly different from that of the mammalian host. To gain knowledge into the metabolic routes by which parasites synthesize polyamines and their precursors, the arginase gene was cloned from Leishmania mexicana, and Δarg null mutants were created by double targeted gene replacement and characterized. The ARG sequence exhibited significant homology to ARG proteins from other organisms and predicted a peroxisomal targeting signal (PTS-1) that steers proteins to the glycosome, an organelle unique to Leishmania and related parasites. ARG was subsequently demonstrated to be present in the glycosome, whereas the polyamine biosynthetic enzymes, in contrast, were shown to be cytosolic. The Δarg knockouts expressed no ARG activity, lacked an intracellular ornithine pool, and were auxotrophic for ornithine or polyamines. The ability of the Δarg null mutants to proliferate could be restored by pharmacological supplementation, either with low putrescine or high ornithine or spermidine concentrations, or by complementation with an arginase episome. Transfection of an arg construct lacking the PTS-1 directed the synthesis of an arg that mislocalized to the cytosol and notably also complemented the genetic lesion and restored polyamine prototrophy to the Δarg parasites. This molecular, biochemical, and genetic dissection of ARG function in L. mexicana promastigotes establishes: (i) that the enzyme is essential for parasite viability; (ii) that Leishmania, unlike mammalian cells, expresses only one ARG activity; (iii) that the sole vital function of ARG is to provide polyamine precursors for the parasite; and (iv) that ARG is present in the glycosome, but this subcellular milieu is not essential for its role in polyamine biosynthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23668-23678
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 28 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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