African sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis, is caused by a protozoan parasite known as Trypanosoma brucei. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, it is transmitted by tsetse flies and infects a variety of mammals, including humans. There are no vaccines against T. brucei, and most drugs to treat the disease have dangerous side effects or are scarce in the countries most heavily afflicted. Each day, the disease kills approximately 100 people.
In order to avoid destruction by mammalian immune systems, T. brucei continually changes the expression of the proteins on its outer surface. These proteins are encoded by VSGs, or variant surface glycoprotein genes. While the immune system attacks most of the parasites in a given host, some trypanosomes rapidly evolve and express new variants of VSG, thereby allowing the parasite to persist and spread through a population.
In the current study, Sergio Callejas, a Marie Curie Research Fellow in Melville's laboratory and the first author on the manuscript, conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate that T. brucei has used a strategy of chromosomal expansion to diversify its repertoire of VSG genes. M
Source:Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory