The Toxoplasma Polymorphic Effector GRA15 Mediates Seizure Induction by Modulating Interleukin-1 Signaling in the Brain

Taylor G. Glausen, Gabriela L. Carrillo, Richard M. Jin, Jon P. Boyle, Jeroen P.J. Saeij, Elizabeth A. Wohlfert, Michael A. Fox, Ira J. Blader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Toxoplasmic encephalitis can develop in individuals infected with the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii and is typified by parasite replication and inflammation within the brain. Patients often present with seizures, but the parasite genes and host pathways involved in seizure development and/or propagation are unknown. We previously reported that seizure induction in Toxoplasma-infected mice is parasite strain dependent. Using quantitative trait locus mapping, we identify four loci in the Toxoplasma genome that potentially correlate with seizure development. In one locus, we identify the polymorphic virulence factor, GRA15, as a Toxoplasma gene associated with onset of seizures. GRA15 was previously shown to regulate host NF-κB-dependent gene expression during acute infections, and we demonstrate a similar role for GRA15 in brains of toxoplasmic encephalitic mice. GRA15 is important for increased expression of interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) and other IL-1 pathway host genes, which is significant since IL-1 signaling is involved in onset of seizures. Inhibiting IL-1 receptor signaling reduced seizure severity in Toxoplasma-infected mice. These data reveal one mechanism by which seizures are induced during toxoplasmic encephalitis. IMPORTANCE Inflammation in the brain caused by infections lead to seizures and other neurological symptoms. But the microbial products that induce seizures as well as the host pathways downstream of these factors are largely unknown. Using a nonbiased genetic screening approach, we identify 4 loci in the Toxoplasma genome that correlate with the induction of seizures in Toxoplasma-infected mice. One of these loci contains the gene, GRA15, which we demonstrate is associated with seizure development in toxoplasmic encephalitic mice. GRA15 accomplishes this in part by activating host pathways that lead to increased IL-1 receptor signaling and that inhibition of this signaling inhibits Toxoplasma-induced seizures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0133121
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 29 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • encephalitis
  • host-parasite relationship
  • neuroimmunology
  • Toxoplasma gondii

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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