Arginine is an essential amino acid for the human pathogen Leishmania, but not to its host. Thus, the mechanism by which this protozoan parasite regulates cellular homeostasis of arginine is critical for its survival and virulence. In a previous study, we cloned and functionally characterized a high affinity arginine-specific transporter, LdAAP3, from L. donovani. In this investigation, we have characterized the relationship between arginine transport via LdAAP3 and amino acid availability. Starving promastigotes for amino acids decreased the cellular level of most amino acids including arginine but also increased the abundance of both LdAAP3 mRNA and protein and up-regulated arginine transport activity. Genetic obliteration of the polyamine biosynthesis pathway for which arginine is the sole precursor caused a significant decrease in the rate of arginine transport. Cumulatively, we established that LdAAP3 expression and activity changed whenever the cellular level of arginine changed. Our findings have led to the hypothesis that L. donovani promastigotes have a signaling pathway that senses cellular concentrations of arginine and subsequently activates a mechanism that regulates LdAAP3 expression and activity. Interestingly, this response of LdAAP3 to amino acid availability in L. donovani is identical to that of the mammalian cation amino acid transporter 1 (CAT1). Thus, we conjecture that Leishmania mimics the host response to amino acid availability in order to improve virulence.
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