We have investigated the pathogenicity of tsetse (Glossina pallidipes)-transmitted cloned strains of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense in vervet monkeys. Tsetse flies were confirmed to have mature trypanosome infections by xenodiagnosis, after which nine monkeys were infected via the bite of a single infected fly. Chancres developed in five of the nine (55.6%) monkeys within 4 to 8 days post infection (dpi). All nine individuals were successfully infected, with a median pre-patent period of 4 (range = 4–10) days, indicating that trypanosomes migrated from the site of fly bite to the systemic circulation rapidly and independently of the development of the chancre. The time lag to detection of parasites in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was a median 16 (range = 8–40) days, marking the onset of central nervous system (CNS, late) stage disease. Subsequently, CSF white cell numbers increased above the pre-infection median count of 2 (range = 0–9) cells/µl, with a positive linear association between their numbers and that of CSF trypanosomes. Haematological changes showed that the monkeys experienced an early microcytic-hypochromic anaemia and severe progressive thrombocytopaenia. Despite a 3-fold increase in granulocyte numbers by 4 dpi, leucopaenia occurred early (8 dpi) in the monkey infection, determined mainly by reductions in lymphocyte numbers. Terminally, leucocytosis was observed in three of nine (33%) individuals. The duration of infection was a median of 68 (range = 22–120) days. Strain and individual differences were observed in the severity of the clinical and clinical pathology findings, with two strains (KETRI 3741 and 3801) producing a more acute disease than the other two (KETRI 3804 and 3928). The study shows that the fly-transmitted model accurately mimics the human disease and is therefore a suitable gateway to understanding human African trypanosomiasis (HAT; sleeping sickness).
Sleeping sickness is caused by a species of trypanosome blood parasite that is transmitted by tsetse flies. To understand better how infection with this parasite leads to disease, we provide here the most detailed description yet of the course of infection and disease onset in vervet monkeys. One infected tsetse fly was allowed to feed on each host individual, and in all cases infections were successful. The characteristics of infection and disease were similar in all hosts, but the rate of progression varied considerably. Parasites were first detected in the blood 4–10 days after infection, showing that migration of parasites from the site of fly bite was very rapid. Anaemia was a key feature of disease, with a reduction in the numbers and average size of red blood cells and associated decline in numbers of platelets and white blood cells. One to six weeks after infection, parasites were observed in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), indicating that they had moved from the blood into the brain; this was associated with a white cell infiltration. This study shows that fly-transmitted infection in vervets accurately mimics human disease and provides a robust model to understand better how sleeping sickness develops.