PLoS Pathogens (Apr 2017)

A quorum sensing-independent path to stumpy development in Trypanosoma brucei.

  • Henriette Zimmermann,
  • Ines Subota,
  • Christopher Batram,
  • Susanne Kramer,
  • Christian J Janzen,
  • Nicola G Jones,
  • Markus Engstler

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 4
p. e1006324


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For persistent infections of the mammalian host, African trypanosomes limit their population size by quorum sensing of the parasite-excreted stumpy induction factor (SIF), which induces development to the tsetse-infective stumpy stage. We found that besides this cell density-dependent mechanism, there exists a second path to the stumpy stage that is linked to antigenic variation, the main instrument of parasite virulence. The expression of a second variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) leads to transcriptional attenuation of the VSG expression site (ES) and immediate development to tsetse fly infective stumpy parasites. This path is independent of SIF and solely controlled by the transcriptional status of the ES. In pleomorphic trypanosomes varying degrees of ES-attenuation result in phenotypic plasticity. While full ES-attenuation causes irreversible stumpy development, milder attenuation may open a time window for rescuing an unsuccessful antigenic switch, a scenario that so far has not been considered as important for parasite survival.