The eukaryotic flagellum (or cilium) is a broadly conserved organelle that provides motility for many pathogenic protozoa and is critical for normal development and physiology in humans. Therefore, defining core components of motile axonemes enhances understanding of eukaryotic biology and provides insight into mechanisms of inherited and infectious diseases in humans. In this study, we show that component of motile flagella 22 (CMF22) is tightly associated with the flagellar axoneme and is likely to have been present in the last eukaryotic common ancestor. The CMF22 amino acid sequence contains predicted IQ and ATPase associated with a variety of cellular activities (AAA) motifs that are conserved among CMF22 orthologues in diverse organisms, hinting at the importance of these domains in CMF22 function. Knockdown by RNA interference (RNAi) and rescue with an RNAi-immune mRNA demonstrated that CMF22 is required for propulsive cell motility in Trypanosoma brucei. Loss of propulsive motility in CMF22-knockdown cells was due to altered flagellar beating patterns, rather than flagellar paralysis, indicating that CMF22 is essential for motility regulation and likely functions as a fundamental regulatory component of motile axonemes. CMF22 association with the axoneme is weakened in mutants that disrupt the nexin-dynein regulatory complex, suggesting potential interaction with this complex. Our results provide insight into the core machinery required for motility of eukaryotic flagella.
The eukaryotic flagellum is a highly conserved organelle serving motility, sensory and transport functions. Although genetic, genomic and proteomic studies have led to the identification of hundreds of flagellar and putative flagellar proteins, precisely how these proteins function individually and collectively to drive flagellum motility and other functions remains to be determined. In this chapter we provide an overview of tools and approaches available for studying flagellum protein function in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei. We begin by outlining techniques for in vitro cultivation of both T. brucei lifecycle stages, as well as transfection protocols for the delivery of DNA constructs. We then describe specific assays used to assess flagellum function including flagellum preparation and quantitative motility assays. We conclude the chapter with a description of molecular genetic approaches for manipulating gene function. In summary, the availability of potent molecular tools, as well as the health and economic relevance of T. brucei as a pathogen, combine to make the parasite an attractive and integral experimental system for the functional analysis of flagellar proteins.
African trypanosomes are devastating human and animal pathogens. Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and T. b. gambiense subspecies cause the fatal human disease known as African sleeping sickness. It is estimated that several hundred thousand new infections occur annually and the disease is fatal if untreated. T. brucei is transmitted by the tsetse fly and alternates between bloodstream-form and insect-form life cycle stages that are adapted to survive in the mammalian host and the insect vector, respectively. The importance of the flagellum for parasite motility and attachment to the tsetse fly salivary gland epithelium has been appreciated for many years. Recent studies have revealed both conserved and novel features of T. brucei flagellum structure and composition, as well as surprising new functions that are outlined here. These discoveries are important from the standpoint of understanding trypanosome biology and identifying novel drug targets, as well as for advancing our understanding of fundamental aspects of eukaryotic flagellum structure and function.
flagellum; cilium; motility; axoneme; trypanosome; dynein; cytokinesis
In teleosts, proper balance and hearing depend on mechanical sensors in the inner ear. These sensors include actin-based microvilli and microtubule-based cilia that extend from the surface of sensory hair cells and attach to biomineralized ‘ear stones’ (or otoliths)1. Otolith number, size and placement are under strict developmental control, but the mechanisms that ensure otolith assembly atop specific cells of the sensory epithelium are unclear. Here we demonstrate that cilia motility is required for normal otolith assembly and localization. Using in vivo video microscopy, we show that motile tether cilia at opposite poles of the otic vesicle create fluid vortices that attract otolith precursor particles, thereby biasing an otherwise random distribution to direct localized otolith seeding on tether cilia. Independent knockdown of subunits for the dynein regulatory complex and outer-arm dynein disrupt cilia motility, leading to defective otolith biogenesis. These results demonstrate a requirement for the dynein regulatory complex in vertebrates and show that cilia-driven flow is a key epigenetic factor in controlling otolith biomineralization.
African trypanosomes cause disease in humans and livestock, generating significant health and welfare problems throughout sub-Saharan Africa. When ingested in a tsetse fly bloodmeal, trypanosomes must detect their new environment and initiate the developmental responses that ensure transmission. The best-established environmental signal is citrate/cis aconitate (CCA), this being transmitted through a protein phosphorylation cascade involving two phosphatases: one that inhibits differentiation (TbPTP1) and one that activates differentiation (TbPIP39). Other cues have been also proposed (mild acid, trypsin exposure, glucose depletion) but their physiological relevance and relationship to TbPTP1/TbPIP39 signalling is unknown. Here we demonstrate that mild acid and CCA operate through TbPIP39 phosphorylation, whereas trypsin attack of the parasite surface uses an alternative pathway that is dispensable in tsetse flies. Surprisingly, glucose depletion is not an important signal. Mechanistic analysis through biophysical methods suggests that citrate promotes differentiation by causing TbPTP1 and TbPIP39 to interact.
African trypanosomes are important pathogens transmitted by tsetse flies in sub-Saharan Africa. Upon transmission, trypanosomes detect citrate and cis-aconitate in the bloodmeal, this inactivating a negative regulator of differentiation, the tyrosine phosphatase TbPTP1. One TbPTP1 substrate is another phosphatase, TbPIP39, which is more active when phosphorylated (after TbPTP1 inhibition) and promotes differentiation. These differentiation regulators have provided tools to monitor whether one or more environmental signals are used to initiate trypanosome development and their relevance in vivo. This is important because different studies over the last 30 years have disputed the physiological importance of different signals. Here we have, firstly, compared the efficacy of the different reported differentiation signals, establishing their relative importance. We then monitored TbPIP39 phosphorylation to show that two signalling pathways operate: one signalled by citrate or mild acid, the other stimulated by external protease activity. Thereafter, we showed that, of these different signals, protease activity is dispensable for differentiation in tsetse flies. Finally, we used biophysical methods to investigate how citrate causes TbPIP39 and TbPTP1 to interact, enabling their regulatory cross-talk. These studies have established the importance of different developmental signals in trypanosomes, providing molecular insight into how the development signal is transduced within the pathogen.
Critical to human innate immunity against African trypanosomes is a minor subclass of human high-density lipoproteins, termed Trypanosome Lytic Factor-1 (TLF-1). This primate-specific molecule binds to a haptoglobin-hemoglobin receptor (HpHbR) on the surface of susceptible trypanosomes, initiating a lytic pathway. Group 1 Trypanosoma brucei gambiense causes human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), escaping TLF-1 killing due to reduced uptake. Previously, we found that group 1 T. b. gambiense HpHbR (TbgHpHbR) mRNA levels were greatly reduced and the gene contained substitutions within the open reading frame. Here we show that a single, highly conserved amino acid in the TbgHpHbR ablates high affinity TLF-1 binding and subsequent endocytosis, thus evading TLF-1 killing. In addition, we show that over-expression of TbgHpHbR failed to rescue TLF-1 susceptibility. These findings suggest that the single substitution present in the TbgHpHbR directly contributes to the reduced uptake and resistance to TLF-1 seen in these important human pathogens.
African trypanosomes are parasites that are able to infect a wide variety of mammals; however, only two sub-species, Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, are able to infect humans. A human innate immune molecule, trypanosome lytic factor-1 (TLF-1), is responsible for this selective protection. TLF-1 killing requires high affinity binding to the trypanosome haptoglobin-hemoglobin receptor (HpHbR), which initiates endocytosis and lysosomal localization of the toxin. T. b. gambiense infects humans because it does not bind TLF-1, and several amino acid changes in the HpHbR are conserved in group 1 T. b. gambiense. To better understand the mechanism of resistance in these parasites, we analyzed TLF-1 binding to trypanosomes expressing the T. b. gambiense HpHbR (TbgHpHbR) and variants in which single amino acids were changed. Our studies showed that a single, highly conserved, amino acid substitution in the TbgHpHbR was sufficient to ablate high affinity TLF-1 binding and contributed to TLF-1 resistance. This likely plays a key role in human infectivity by group 1 T. b. gambiense.
Antigenic variation in African trypanosomes requires monoallelic transcription and switching of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) genes. The transcribed VSG, always flanked by ‘70 bp’-repeats and telomeric-repeats, is either replaced through DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair or transcriptionally inactivated. However, little is known about the subtelomeric DSBs that naturally trigger antigenic variation in Trypanosoma brucei, the subsequent DNA damage responses, or how these responses determine the mechanism of VSG switching. We found that DSBs naturally accumulate close to both transcribed and non-transcribed telomeres. We then induced high-efficiency meganuclease-mediated DSBs and monitored DSB-responses and DSB-survivors. By inducing breaks at distinct sites within both transcribed and silent VSG transcription units and assessing local DNA resection, histone modification, G2/M-checkpoint activation, and both RAD51-dependent and independent repair, we reveal how breaks at different sites trigger distinct responses and, in ‘active-site’ survivors, different switching mechanisms. At the active site, we find that promoter-adjacent breaks typically failed to trigger switching, 70 bp-repeat-adjacent breaks almost always triggered switching through 70 bp-repeat recombination (∼60% RAD51-dependent), and telomere-repeat-adjacent breaks triggered switching through loss of the VSG expression site (25% of survivors). Expression site loss was associated with G2/M-checkpoint bypass, while 70 bp-repeat-recombination was associated with DNA-resection, γH2A-focus assembly and a G2/M-checkpoint. Thus, the probability and mechanism of antigenic switching are highly dependent upon the location of the break. We conclude that 70 bp-repeat-adjacent and telomere-repeat-adjacent breaks trigger distinct checkpoint responses and VSG switching pathways. Our results show how subtelomere fragility can generate the triggers for the major antigenic variation mechanisms in the African trypanosome.
Previous studies on antigenic variation in African trypanosomes relied upon positive or negative selection, yielding only cells that underwent variation. This made it difficult to define individual switched clones as independent, potentially introduced bias in the relative contribution of each switching mechanism and precluded analysis of cells undergoing switching. We show that DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) naturally accumulate close to Trypanosoma brucei telomeres. Using the I-SceI meganuclease, we then established a system to trigger breaks in all cells in a population. The specificity, temporal constraint and efficiency of cleavage facilitated the application of a quantitative approach to dissecting subtelomeric break responses and their consequences. Accordingly, we show that the DSB-site determines probability and mechanism of antigenic switching, that DSBs can trigger switching via recombination or transcription inactivation and that a checkpoint-bypass mechanism can explain switching via VSG expression site deletion. Our results provide major new insights into the mechanisms underlying antigenic variation and provide a new model to explain how the repeats flanking VSG genes serve distinct roles in fragility and recombination. The findings are also relevant to telomeric gene rearrangements that control immune evasion in other protozoal, fungal and bacterial pathogens such as Plasmodium, Pneumocystis and Borrelia species, respectively.
Summary of recent advances
Protozoan parasites cause tremendous human suffering worldwide, but strategies for therapeutic intervention are limited. Recent studies illustrate that the paradigm of microbes as social organisms can be brought to bear on questions about parasite biology, transmission and pathogenesis. This review discusses recent work demonstrating adaptation of social behaviors by parasitic protozoa that cause African sleeping sickness and malaria. The recognition of social behavior and cell-cell communication as a ubiquitous property of bacteria has transformed our view of microbiology, but protozoan parasites have not generally been considered in this context. Works discussed illustrate the potential for concepts of sociomicrobiology to provide insight into parasite biology and should stimulate new approaches for thinking about parasites and parasite-host interactions.
Cell-cell communication; social behavior; Trypanosoma; Plasmodium
Primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) is an inherited disorder characterized by recurrent infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract, reduced fertility in males and situs inversus in about 50% of affected individuals (Kartagener syndrome). It is caused by motility defects in the respiratory cilia that are responsible for airway clearance, the flagella that propel sperm cells and the nodal monocilia that determine left-right asymmetry1. Recessive mutations that cause PCD have been identified in genes encoding components of the outer dynein arms, radial spokes and cytoplasmic pre-assembly factors of axonemal dyneins, but these mutations account for only about 50% of cases of PCD. We exploited the unique properties of dog populations to positionally clone a new PCD gene, CCDC39. We found that loss-of-function mutations in the human ortholog underlie a substantial fraction of PCD cases with axonemal disorganization and abnormal ciliary beating. Functional analyses indicated that CCDC39 localizes to ciliary axonemes and is essential for assembly of inner dynein arms and the dynein regulatory complex.
Trypanosoma brucei is a master of antigenic variation and immune response evasion. Utilizing a genomic repertoire of more than 1000 Variant Surface Glycoprotein-encoding genes (VSGs), T. brucei can change its protein coat by “switching” from the expression of one VSG to another. Each active VSG is monoallelically expressed from only one of approximately 15 subtelomeric sites. Switching VSG expression occurs by three predominant mechanisms, arguably the most significant of which is the non-reciprocal exchange of VSG containing DNA by duplicative gene conversion (GC). How T. brucei orchestrates its complex switching mechanisms remains to be elucidated. Recent work has demonstrated that an exogenous DNA break in the active site could initiate a GC based switch, yet the source of the switch-initiating DNA lesion under natural conditions is still unknown. Here we investigated the hypothesis that telomere length directly affects VSG switching. We demonstrate that telomerase deficient strains with short telomeres switch more frequently than genetically identical strains with long telomeres and that, when the telomere is short, switching preferentially occurs by GC. Our data supports the hypothesis that a short telomere at the active VSG expression site results in an increase in subtelomeric DNA breaks, which can initiate GC based switching. In addition to their significance for T. brucei and telomere biology, the findings presented here have implications for the many diverse pathogens that organize their antigenic genes in subtelomeric regions.
A broad array of human pathogens (including bacteria, fungi and parasites) vary the proteins on their cell surface to escape the immune response of their hosts. This process, called antigenic variation, relies on a repertoire of variant protein encoding genes in the genome and the organism's ability to accurately switch from the expression of one variant gene to another. A common theme in both the diversification of these variant genes and the mechanisms required for their expression is that they are often located near the ends of chromosomes. The ends of chromosomes are protected by structures called telomeres. Regions near the telomere are referred to as subtelomeric and are commonly thought to be comparatively unstable DNA sites. It is therefore intriguing that organisms that rely on antigenic variation for survival would organize their critical survival genes in these sites. Trypanosoma brucei is a model organism for the study of antigenic variation. The causative agent of African sleeping sickness, this unicellular parasite possesses an antigenic repertoire of unparalleled diversity, which can only be expressed from specific subtelomeric sites. Here we use the power of the T. brucei model to investigate the effect of telomere length on antigenic variation.
Macroautophagy has been shown to be important for the cellular remodelling required for Leishmania differentiation. We now demonstrate that L. major contains a functional ATG12-ATG5 conjugation system, which is required for ATG8-dependent autophagosome formation. Nascent autophagosomes were found commonly associated with the mitochondrion. L. major mutants lacking ATG5 (Δatg5) were viable as promastigotes but were unable to form autophagosomes, had morphological abnormalities including a much reduced flagellum, were less able to differentiate and had greatly reduced virulence to macrophages and mice. Analyses of the lipid metabolome of Δatg5 revealed marked elevation of phosphatidylethanolamines (PE) in comparison to wild type parasites. The Δatg5 mutants also had increased mitochondrial mass but reduced mitochondrial membrane potential and higher levels of reactive oxygen species. These findings indicate that the lack of ATG5 and autophagy leads to perturbation of the phospholipid balance in the mitochondrion, possibly through ablation of membrane use and conjugation of mitochondrial PE to ATG8 for autophagosome biogenesis, resulting in a dysfunctional mitochondrion with impaired oxidative ability and energy generation. The overall result of this is reduced virulence.
Leishmaniasis is a disease of humans that is of major significance throughout many parts of the world. It is caused by the protozoan parasite Leishmania and mammals are infected through the bite of a sand fly in which the parasite develops. Parasite remodelling crucial for generation of the human-infective forms is aided by the catabolic process known as autophagy in which cell material is packaged within organelles called autophagosomes and subsequently broken down in the digestive lysosomal compartment. Here we show that autophagy in Leishmania requires the coordinated actions of two pathways, one of which involves a protein called ATG5. We have generated parasite mutants lacking this protein and shown that ATG5 is required for both autophagosome formation and also maintenance of a fully functional mitochondrion. The mutants lacking ATG5 have increased mitochondrial mass and phospholipid content, high levels of oxidants and reduced membrane potential, all being hallmarks of a dysfunctional mitochondrion with impaired ability for energy generation. Our results have thus revealed that a functional autophagic pathway is crucial for phospholipid homeostasis and mitochondrial function in the parasite and important for the parasite's differentiation, infectivity and virulence to its mammalian host.
Flagellum motility is critical for normal human development and for transmission of pathogenic protozoa that cause tremendous human suffering worldwide. Biophysical principles underlying motility of eukaryotic flagella are conserved from protists to vertebrates. However, individual cells exhibit diverse waveforms that depend on cell-specific elaborations on basic flagellum architecture. Trypanosoma brucei is a uniflagellated protozoan parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. The T. brucei flagellum is comprised of a 9+2 axoneme and an extra-axonemal paraflagellar rod (PFR), but the three-dimensional (3D) arrangement of the underlying structural units is poorly defined. Here, we use dual-axis electron tomography to determine the 3D architecture of the T. brucei flagellum. We define the T. brucei axonemal repeating unit. We observe direct connections between the PFR and axonemal dyneins, suggesting a mechanism by which mechanochemical signals may be transmitted from the PFR to axonemal dyneins. We find that the PFR itself is comprised of overlapping laths organized into distinct zones that are connected through twisting elements at the zonal interfaces. The overall structure has an underlying 57nm repeating unit. Biomechanical properties inferred from PFR structure lead us to propose that the PFR functions as a biomechanical spring that may store and transmit energy derived from axonemal beating. These findings provide insight into the structural foundations that underlie the distinctive flagellar waveform that is a hallmark of T. brucei cell motility.
The flagellum of Trypanosoma brucei is an essential and multifunctional organelle that is receiving increasing attention as a potential drug target and as a system for studying flagellum biology. RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown is widely used to test the requirement for a protein in flagellar motility and has suggested that normal flagellar motility is essential for viability in bloodstream-form trypanosomes. However, RNAi knockdown alone provides limited functional information because the consequence is often loss of a multiprotein complex. We therefore developed an inducible system that allows functional analysis of point mutations in flagellar proteins in T. brucei. Using this system, we identified point mutations in the outer dynein light chain 1 (LC1) that allow stable assembly of outer dynein motors but do not support propulsive motility. In procyclic-form trypanosomes, the phenotype of LC1 mutants with point mutations differs from the motility and structural defects of LC1 knockdowns, which lack the outer-arm dynein motor. Thus, our results distinguish LC1-specific functions from broader functions of outer-arm dynein. In bloodstream-form trypanosomes, LC1 knockdown blocks cell division and is lethal. In contrast, LC1 point mutations cause severe motility defects without affecting viability, indicating that the lethal phenotype of LC1 RNAi knockdown is not due to defective motility. Our results demonstrate for the first time that normal motility is not essential in bloodstream-form T. brucei and that the presumed connection between motility and viability is more complex than might be interpreted from knockdown studies alone. These findings open new avenues for dissecting mechanisms of flagellar protein function and provide an important step in efforts to exploit the potential of the flagellum as a therapeutic target in African sleeping sickness.
Motility of the sleeping sickness parasite, Trypanosoma brucei, impacts disease transmission and pathogenesis. Trypanosome motility is driven by a flagellum that harbors a canonical 9 + 2 axoneme, together with trypanosome-specific elaborations. Trypanosome flagellum biology and motility have been the object of intense research over the last two years. These studies have led to the discovery of a novel form of motility, termed social motility, and provided revision of long-standing models for cell propulsion. Recent work has also uncovered novel structural features and motor proteins associated with the flagellar apparatus and has identified candidate signaling molecules that are predicted to regulate flagellar motility. Together with earlier inventories of flagellar proteins from proteomic and genomic studies, the stage is now set to move forward with functional studies to elucidate molecular mechanisms and investigate parasite motility in the context of host-parasite interactions.
Flagellum; Cilium; Motility; Axoneme; Trypanosome; Social Behavior
African trypanosomes, i.e. Trypanosoma brucei and related sub-species, are devastating human and animal pathogens that cause significant human mortality and limit sustained economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Trypanosoma brucei is a highly motile protozoan parasite and coordinated motility is central to both disease pathogenesis in the mammalian host and parasite development in the tsetse fly vector. Since motility is critical for parasite development and pathogenesis, understanding unique aspects of the T. brucei flagellum may uncover novel targets for therapeutic intervention in African sleeping sickness. Moreover, studies of conserved features of the T. brucei flagellum are directly relevant to understanding fundamental aspects of flagellum and cilium function in other eukaryotes, making T. brucei an important model system. The T. brucei flagellum contains a canonical 9 + 2 axoneme, together with additional features that are unique to kinetoplastids and a few closely-related organisms. Until recently, much of our knowledge of the structure and function of the trypanosome flagellum was based on analogy and inference from other organisms. There has been an explosion in functional studies in T. brucei in recent years, revealing conserved as well as novel and unexpected structural and functional features of the flagellum. Most notably, the flagellum has been found to be an essential organelle, with critical roles in parasite motility, morphogenesis, cell division and immune evasion. This review highlights recent discoveries on the T. brucei flagellum.
Flagellum; Cilium; Motility; Axoneme; Trypanosome; Dynein; Cytokinesis
African trypanosomes are devastating human and animal pathogens that cause significant human mortality and limit economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Studies of trypanosome biology generally consider these protozoan parasites as individual cells in suspension cultures or in animal models of infection. Here we report that the procyclic form of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei engages in social behavior when cultivated on semisolid agarose surfaces. This behavior is characterized by trypanosomes assembling into multicellular communities that engage in polarized migrations across the agarose surface and cooperate to divert their movements in response to external signals. These cooperative movements are flagellum-mediated, since they do not occur in trypanin knockdown parasites that lack normal flagellum motility. We term this behavior social motility based on features shared with social motility and other types of surface-induced social behavior in bacteria. Social motility represents a novel and unexpected aspect of trypanosome biology and offers new paradigms for considering host-parasite interactions.
African trypanosomes, e.g. Trypanosoma brucei, and related kinetoplastid parasites cause morbidity and mortality in several million people worldwide. Trypanosomes are protists and are thus generally considered to behave as single-celled microorganisms. In other microorganisms, social interactions among individuals lead to development of multicellular communities with specialized and advantageous capabilities versus single cells. The concept of bacteria acting as groups of cells communicating and cooperating with one another has had a major impact on our understanding of bacterial physiology and pathogenesis, but this paradigm has not been applied to parasitic protozoa. Here we report that T. brucei is capable of social behavior when exposed to semisolid surfaces. This behavior, termed social motility, is characterized by the assembly of parasites into multicellular communities with emergent properties that are not evident in single cells. Parasites within communities exhibit polarized movements and cooperate to coordinate their movements in response to an external stimulus. Social motility offers many potential advantages, such as facilitating colonization and navigation through host tissues. The identification of social behavior in T. brucei reveals a novel and unexpected aspect of parasite biology and provides new concepts for considering host-parasite interactions.
The Trypanosoma brucei flagellum is a multifunctional organelle with critical roles in motility, cellular morphogenesis, and cell division. Although motility is thought to be important throughout the trypanosome lifecycle, most studies of flagellum structure and function have been restricted to the procyclic lifecycle stage, and our knowledge of the bloodstream form flagellum is limited. We have previously shown that trypanin functions as part of a flagellar dynein regulatory system that transmits regulatory signals from the central pair apparatus and radial spokes to axonemal dyneins. Here we investigate the requirement for this dynein regulatory system in bloodstream form trypanosomes. We demonstrate that trypanin is localized to the flagellum of bloodstream form trypanosomes, in a pattern identical to that seen in procyclic cells. Surprisingly, trypanin RNA interference is lethal in the bloodstream form. These knockdown mutants fail to initiate cytokinesis, but undergo multiple rounds of organelle replication, accumulating multiple flagella, nuclei, kinetoplasts, mitochondria, and flagellum attachment zone structures. These findings suggest that normal flagellar beat is essential in bloodstream form trypanosomes and underscore the emerging concept that there is a dichotomy between trypanosome lifecycle stages with respect to factors that contribute to cell division and cell morphogenesis. This is the first time that a defined dynein regulatory complex has been shown to be essential in any organism and implicates the dynein regulatory complex and other enzymatic regulators of flagellar motility as candidate drug targets for the treatment of African sleeping sickness.
African trypanosomes are protozoan parasites that cause African sleeping sickness, a fatal disease with devastating health and economic consequences. These parasites are indigenous to a 9 million-km2 area of sub-Saharan Africa where 60 million people live at risk of infection every day. In addition to the tremendous human health burden posed by trypanosomes, their infection of wild and domestic animals presents a barrier to sustained economic development of vast regions of otherwise productive land. Current drugs used for treatment of sleeping sickness are antiquated, toxic, and often ineffective; thus, there is a dire need for the development of innovative approaches for therapeutic intervention. Trypanosomes are highly motile and this motility requires coordinated regulation of axonemal dynein, a molecular motor that drives beating of the parasite's flagellum. In the present work, the authors demonstrate that the protein trypanin, which is part of a signaling system that regulates the flagellar dynein motor, is essential in bloodstream stage African trypanosomes. This surprising finding raises the possibility that numerous enzymes and regulatory proteins that are necessary for flagellar motility may represent novel targets for chemotherapeutic intervention in African sleeping sickness.
The flagellum of Trypanosoma brucei is a multifunctional organelle with critical roles in motility and other aspects of the trypanosome life cycle. Trypanin is a flagellar protein required for directional cell motility, but its molecular function is unknown. Recently, a trypanin homologue in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was reported to be part of a dynein regulatory complex (DRC) that transmits regulatory signals from central pair microtubules and radial spokes to axonemal dynein. DRC genes were identified as extragenic suppressors of central pair and/or radial spoke mutations. We used RNA interference to ablate expression of radial spoke (RSP3) and central pair (PF16) components individually or in combination with trypanin. Both rsp3 and pf16 single knockdown mutants are immotile, with severely defective flagellar beat. In the case of rsp3, this loss of motility is correlated with the loss of radial spokes, while in the case of pf16 the loss of motility correlates with an aberrant orientation of the central pair microtubules within the axoneme. Genetic interaction between trypanin and PF16 is demonstrated by the finding that loss of trypanin suppresses the pf16 beat defect, indicating that the DRC represents an evolutionarily conserved strategy for dynein regulation. Surprisingly, we discovered that four independent mutants with an impaired flagellar beat all fail in the final stage of cytokinesis, indicating that flagellar motility is necessary for normal cell division in T. brucei. These findings present the first evidence that flagellar beating is important for cell division and open the opportunity to exploit enzymatic activities that drive flagellar beat as drug targets for the treatment of African sleeping sickness.
The cytoskeleton of eukaryotic cells is comprised of a complex network of distinct but interconnected filament systems that function in cell division, cell motility, and subcellular trafficking of proteins and organelles. A gap in our understanding of this dynamic network is the identification of proteins that connect subsets of cytoskeletal structures. We previously discovered a family of cytoskeleton-associated proteins that includes GAS11, a candidate human tumor suppressor upregulated in growth-arrested cells, and trypanin, a component of the flagellar cytoskeleton of African trypanosomes. Although these proteins are intimately associated with the cytoskeleton, their function has yet to be determined. Here we use double-stranded RNA interference to block trypanin expression in Trypanosoma brucei, and demonstrate that this protein is required for directional cell motility. Trypanin(−) mutants have an active flagellum, but are unable to coordinate flagellar beat. As a consequence, they spin and tumble uncontrollably, occasionally moving backward. Immunofluorescence experiments demonstrate that trypanin is located along the flagellum/flagellum attachment zone and electron microscopic analysis revealed that cytoskeletal connections between the flagellar apparatus and subpellicular cytoskeleton are destabilized in trypanin(−) mutants. These results indicate that trypanin functions as a cytoskeletal linker protein and offer insights into the mechanisms of flagellum-based cell motility.
trypanin; microtubule-associated protein; cytoskeleton; cell motility; dsRNA interference
An early and essential event in the protective immune response against most viruses and protozoa is the production of interferon-γ (IFN-γ). In contrast, during infection with African trypanosomes, protozoan parasites that cause human sleeping sickness, the increased levels of IFN-γ do not correlate with a protective response. We showed previously that African trypanosomes express a protein called T lymphocyte triggering factor (TLTF), which triggers CD8+ T lymphocytes to proliferate and to secrete IFN-γ. Here, we isolate the gene for TLTF and demonstrate that the recombinant version of TLTF specifically induces CD8+, but not CD4+, T cells to secrete IFN-γ. Studies with TLTF fused to the green fluorescent protein show that TLTF is localized to small vesicles that are found primarily at or near the flagellar pocket, the site of secretion in trypanosomes. TLTF is likely to be only the first example of a class of proteins that we designate as trypanokines, i.e., factors secreted by trypanosomes that modulate the cytokine network of the host immune system for the benefit of the parasite.