Mosaic VSGs and the scale of Trypanosoma brucei antigenic variation.
ABSTRACT: A main determinant of prolonged Trypanosoma brucei infection and transmission and success of the parasite is the interplay between host acquired immunity and antigenic variation of the parasite variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat. About 0.1% of trypanosome divisions produce a switch to a different VSG through differential expression of an archive of hundreds of silent VSG genes and pseudogenes, but the patterns and extent of the trypanosome diversity phenotype, particularly in chronic infection, are unclear. We applied longitudinal VSG cDNA sequencing to estimate variant richness and test whether pseudogenes contribute to antigenic variation. We show that individual growth peaks can contain at least 15 distinct variants, are estimated computationally to comprise many more, and that antigenically distinct 'mosaic' VSGs arise from segmental gene conversion between donor VSG genes or pseudogenes. The potential for trypanosome antigenic variation is probably much greater than VSG archive size; mosaic VSGs are core to antigenic variation and chronic infection.
Project description:The parasitic African trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei, evades the adaptive host immune response by a process of antigenic variation that involves the clonal switching of variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs). The VSGs that come to dominate in vivo during an infection are not entirely random, but display a hierarchical order. How this arises is not fully understood. Combining available genetic data with mathematical modelling, we report a VSG-length-dependent hierarchical timing of clonal VSG dominance in a mouse model, consistent with an inverse correlation between VSG length and trypanosome growth-rate. Our analyses indicate that, among parasites switching to new VSGs, those expressing shorter VSGs preferentially accumulate to a detectable level that is sufficient to trigger a targeted immune response. This may be due to the increased metabolic cost of producing longer VSGs. Subsequent elimination of faster-growing parasites then allows slower-growing parasites with longer VSGs to accumulate. This interaction between the host and parasite is able to explain the temporal distribution of VSGs observed in vivo. Thus, our findings reveal a length-dependent hierarchy that operates during T. brucei infection. This represents a 'feint attack' diversion tactic utilised by these persistent parasites to out-maneuver the host adaptive immune system.
Project description:The African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei spp. is a paradigm for antigenic variation, the orchestrated alteration of cell surface molecules to evade host immunity. The parasite elicits robust antibody-mediated immune responses to its variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat, but evades immune clearance by repeatedly accessing a large genetic VSG repertoire and 'switching' to antigenically distinct VSGs. This persistent immune evasion has been ascribed exclusively to amino-acid variance on the VSG surface presented by a conserved underlying protein architecture. We establish here that this model does not account for the scope of VSG structural and biochemical diversity. The 1.4-Å-resolution crystal structure of the variant VSG3 manifests divergence in the tertiary fold and oligomeric state. The structure also reveals an O-linked carbohydrate on the top surface of VSG3. Mass spectrometric analysis indicates that this O-glycosylation site is heterogeneously occupied in VSG3 by zero to three hexose residues and is also present in other VSGs. We demonstrate that this O-glycosylation increases parasite virulence by impairing the generation of protective immunity. These data alter the paradigm of antigenic variation by the African trypanosome, expanding VSG variability beyond amino-acid sequence to include surface post-translational modifications with immunomodulatory impact.
Project description:Trypanosoma brucei variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) expression is a classic example of allelic exclusion. While the genome of T. brucei contains >2,000 VSG genes and VSG pseudogenes, only one allele is expressed at the surface of each infectious trypanosome and the others are repressed. Along with recombinatorial VSG switching, allelic exclusion provides a major host evasion mechanism for trypanosomes, a phenomenon known as antigenic variation. To extend our understanding of how trypanosomes escape host immunity by differential expression of VSGs, we attempted to identify genes that contribute to VSG silencing, by performing a loss-of-silencing screen in T. brucei using a transposon-mediated random insertional mutagenesis. One identified gene, which we initially named LOS1, encodes a T. brucei MCM-Binding Protein (TbMCM-BP). Here we show that TbMCM-BP is essential for viability of infectious bloodstream-form (BF) trypanosome and is required for proper cell-cycle progression. Tandem affinity purification of TbMCM-BP followed by mass spectrometry identified four subunits (MCM4-MCM7) of the T. brucei MCM complex, a replicative helicase, and MCM8, a subunit that is uniquely co-purified with TbMCM-BP. TbMCM-BP is required not only for repression of subtelomeric VSGs but also for silencing of life-cycle specific, insect-stage genes, procyclin and procyclin-associated genes (PAGs), that are normally repressed in BF trypanosomes and are transcribed by RNA polymerase I. Our study uncovers a functional link between chromosome maintenance and RNA pol I-mediated gene silencing in T. brucei.
Project description:The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei switches its variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) to subvert its mammalian hosts' immune responses. The T. brucei genome contains as many as 1600 VSG genes (VSGs), but most are silent noncoding pseudogenes. Only one functional VSG, located in a telomere-linked expression site, is transcribed at a time. Silent VSGs are copied into a VSG expression site through gene conversion. Truncated gene conversion events can generate new mosaic VSGs with segments of sequence identity to other VSGs. To examine the VSG family sub-structure within which these events occur, we combined the available VSG sequences and annotations with scripted BLAST searches to map the relationships among VSGs in the T. brucei genome. Clusters of related VSGs were visualized in 2- and 3-dimensions for different N- and C-terminal regions. Five types of N-termini (N1-N5) were observed, within which gene recombinational events are likely to occur, often with fully-coding 'functional' or 'atypical'VSGs centrally located between more dissimilar VSGs. Members of types N1, N3 and N4 are most closely related in the middle of the N-terminal region, whereas type N2 members are more similar near the N-terminus. Some preference occurs in pairing between specific N- and C-terminal types. Statistical analyses indicated no overall tendency for more related VSGs to be located closer in the genome than less related VSGs, although exceptions were noted. Many potential mosaic gene formation events within each N-terminal type were identified, contrasted by only one possible mosaic gene formation between N-terminal types (N1 and N2). These data suggest that mosaic gene formation is a major contributor to the overall VSG diversity, even though gene recombinational events between members of different N-terminal types occur only rarely.
Project description:Antigenic variation is employed by many pathogens to evade the host immune response, and Trypanosoma brucei has evolved a complex system to achieve this phenotype, involving sequential use of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) genes encoded from a large repertoire of ~2,000 genes. T. brucei express multiple, sometimes closely related, VSGs in a population at any one time, and the ability to resolve and analyse this diversity has been limited. We applied long read sequencing (PacBio) to VSG amplicons generated from blood extracted from batches of mice sacrificed at time points (days 3, 6, 10 and 12) post-infection with T. brucei TREU927. The data showed that long read sequencing is reliable for resolving variant differences between VSGs, and demonstrated that there is significant expressed diversity (449 VSGs detected across 20 mice) and across the timeframe of study there was a clear semi-reproducible pattern of expressed diversity (median of 27 VSGs per sample at day 3 post infection (p.i.), 82 VSGs at day 6 p.i., 187 VSGs at day 10 p.i. and 132 VSGs by day 12 p.i.). There was also consistent detection of one VSG dominating expression across replicates at days 3 and 6, and emergence of a second dominant VSG across replicates by day 12. The innovative application of ecological diversity analysis to VSG reads enabled characterisation of hierarchical VSG expression in the dataset, and resulted in a novel method for analysing such patterns of variation. Additionally, the long read approach allowed detection of mosaic VSG expression from very few reads-the earliest in infection that such events have been detected. Therefore, our results indicate that long read analysis is a reliable tool for resolving diverse gene expression profiles, and provides novel insights into the complexity and nature of VSG expression in trypanosomes, revealing significantly higher diversity than previously shown and the ability to identify mosaic gene formation early during the infection process.
Project description:The expression of genes coding for variable surface glycoproteins (VSGs) in Trypanosoma equiperdum is linked to duplicative transpositions of silent, basic copy sequences into telomere-linked expression sites. Examination of three independently derived late-appearing trypanosome clones expressing VSG-78 revealed that the expressed gene in all cases is composed of sequences derived from three or four individual silent genes. The 182 base pairs at the 3' end of the coding sequence are derived from one silent gene, the 3' donor. The remaining 5' segment is a mosaic structure containing variable-length segments derived from two, or perhaps three, related silent genes. All of the silent genes that participate in the construction of the VSG-78 expression-linked copy (ELC) genes contain multiple stop codons and are unable to code for VSGs. Individual silent pseudogenes complement one another in the mosaic structure of the 5' portions of the ELC genes and create functional VSG genes. The joining of the 3' and 5' portions of the composite genes occurs in short regions of homology and suggests a mechanism by which the ordered expression of the VSG genes is generated.
Project description:Antigenic variation is an immune evasion strategy used by African trypanosomes, in which the parasites periodically switch the expression of VSG genes that encode their protective variant surface glycoprotein coat. Two main routes exist for VSG switching: changing the transcriptional status between an active and an inactive copy of the site of VSG expression, called the bloodstream VSG expression site, or recombination reactions that move silent VSGs or VSG copies into the actively transcribed expression site. Nothing is known about the proteins that control and catalyze these switching reactions. This study describes the cloning of a trypanosome gene encoding RAD51, an enzyme involved in DNA break repair and genetic exchange, and analysis of the role of the enzyme in antigenic variation. Trypanosomes genetically inactivated in the RAD51 gene were shown to be viable, and had phenotypes consistent with lacking functional expression of an enzyme of homologous recombination. The mutants had an impaired ability to undergo VSG switching, and it appeared that both recombinational and transcriptional switching reactions were down-regulated, indicating that RAD51 either catalyzes or regulates antigenic variation. Switching events were still detectable, however, so it appears that trypanosome factors other than RAD51 can also provide for antigenic variation.
Project description:African trypanosomiasis is a vector-borne disease of humans and livestock caused by African trypanosomes (Trypanosoma spp.). Survival in the vertebrate bloodstream depends on antigenic variation of Variant Surface Glycoproteins (VSGs) coating the parasite surface. In T. brucei, a model for antigenic variation, monoallelic VSG expression originates from dedicated VSG expression sites (VES). Trypanosoma brucei VES have a conserved structure consisting of a telomeric VSG locus downstream of unique, repeat sequences, and an independent promoter. Additional protein-coding sequences, known as "Expression Site Associated Genes (ESAGs)", are also often present and are implicated in diverse, bloodstream-stage functions. Trypanosoma congolense is a related veterinary pathogen, also displaying VSG-mediated antigenic variation. A T. congolense VES has not been described, making it unclear if regulation of VSG expression is conserved between species. Here, we describe a conserved telomeric region associated with VSG loci from long-read DNA sequencing of two T. congolense strains, which consists of a distal repeat, conserved noncoding elements and other genes besides the VSG; although these are not orthologous to T. brucei ESAGs. Most conserved telomeric regions are associated with accessory minichromosomes, but the same structure may also be associated with megabase chromosomes. We propose that this region represents the T. congolense VES, and through comparison with T. brucei, we discuss the parallel evolution of antigenic switching mechanisms, and unique adaptation of the T. brucei VES for developmental regulation of bloodstream-stage genes. Hence, we provide a basis for understanding antigenic switching in T. congolense and the origins of the African trypanosome VES.
Project description:Allelic exclusion underpins antigenic variation and immune evasion in African trypanosomes. These bloodstream parasites use RNA polymerase-I (pol-I) to transcribe just one telomeric variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) gene at a time, producing superabundant and switchable VSG coats. We identified trypanosome VSG exclusion-1 (VEX1) using a genetic screen for defects in telomere-exclusive expression. VEX1 was sequestered by the active VSG and silencing of other VSGs failed when VEX1 was either ectopically expressed or depleted, indicating positive and negative regulation, respectively. Positive regulation affected VSGs and nontelomeric pol-I-transcribed genes, whereas negative regulation primarily affected VSGs. Negative regulation by VEX1 also affected telomeric pol-I-transcribed reporter constructs, but only when they contained blocks of sequence sharing homology with a pol-I-transcribed locus. We conclude that restricted positive regulation due to VEX1 sequestration, combined with VEX1-dependent, possibly homology-dependent silencing, drives a "winner-takes-all" mechanism of allelic exclusion.
Project description:Many pathogens evade host immunity by periodically changing the proteins they express on their surface - a phenomenon termed antigenic variation. An extreme form of antigenic variation, based around switching the composition of a Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) coat, is exhibited by the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human disease. The molecular details of VSG switching in T. brucei have been extensively studied over the last three decades, revealing in increasing detail the machinery and mechanisms by which VSG expression is controlled and altered. However, several key components of the models of T. brucei antigenic variation that have emerged have been challenged through recent discoveries. These discoveries include new appreciation of the importance of gene mosaics in generating huge levels of new VSG variants, the contributions of parasite development and body compartmentation in the host to the infection dynamics and, finally, potential differences in the strategies of antigenic variation and host infection used by the crucial livestock trypanosomes T. congolense and T. vivax. This review will discuss all these observations, which raise questions regarding how secure the existing models of trypanosome antigenic variation are. In addition, we will discuss the importance of continued mathematical modelling to understand the purpose of this widespread immune survival process.