Trypanosome gene expression is regulated almost exclusively at the post-transcriptional level, with mRNA degradation playing a decisive role. When trypanosomes are transferred from the blood of a mammal to the midgut of a Tsetse fly, they transform to procyclic forms: gene expression is reprogrammed, changing the cell surface and switching the mode of energy metabolism. Within the blood, trypanosomes can pre-adapt for Tsetse transmission, becoming growth-arrested stumpy forms. We describe here the transitions in gene expression that occur during differentiation of in-vitro cultured bloodstream forms to procyclic forms.
Some mRNAs showed changes within 30 min of cis-aconitate addition, whereas others responded 12-24 hours later. For the first 12 h after addition of cis-aconitate, cells accumulated at the G1 phase of the cell cycle, and showed decreases in mRNAs required for proliferation, mimicking the changes seen in stumpy forms: many mRNAs needed for ribosomal and flagellar biogenesis showed striking co-regulation. Other mRNAs encoding components of signal transduction pathways and potential regulators were specifically induced only during differentiation. Messenger RNAs encoding proteins required for individual metabolic pathways were often co-regulated.
Trypanosome genes form post-transcriptional regulons in which mRNAs with functions in particular pathways, or encoding components of protein complexes, show almost identical patterns of regulation.