Somrita Basu, Mattie Pawlowic, Fong-Fu Hsu, Geoff Thomas, Kai Zhang.
Glycerophospholipids including phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylcholine (PC) are vital components of biological membranes. Trypanosomatid parasites of the genus Leishmania can acquire PE and PC via de novo synthesis and the uptake/remodeling of host lipids. In this study, we investigated the ethanolaminephosphate cytidyltransferase (EPCT) in Leishmania major, which is the causative agent for cutaneous leishmaniasis. EPCT is a key enzyme in the ethanolamine branch of the Kennedy pathway which is responsible for the de novo synthesis of PE. Our results demonstrate that L. major EPCT is a cytosolic protein capable of catalyzing the formation of CDP-ethanolamine from ethanolamine-phosphate and cytidine triphosphate. Genetic manipulation experiments indicate that EPCT is essential in both the promastigote and amastigote stages of L. major as the chromosomal null mutants cannot survive without the episomal expression of EPCT. This differs from our previous findings on the choline branch of the Kennedy pathway (responsible for PC synthesis) which is required only in promastigotes but not amastigotes. While episomal EPCT expression does not affect promastigote proliferation under normal conditions, it leads to reduced production of ethanolamine plasmalogen or plasmenylethanolamine, the dominant PE subtype in Leishmania. In addition, parasites with epsiomal EPCT exhibit heightened sensitivity to acidic pH and starvation stress, and significant reduction in virulence. In summary, our investigation demonstrates that proper regulation of EPCT expression is crucial for PE synthesis, stress response, and survival of Leishmania parasites throughout their life cycle.