Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Mechanism of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (group 1) resistance to human trypanosome lytic factor.

PMID 20805508


Human innate immunity against most African trypanosomes, including Trypanosoma brucei brucei, is mediated by a minor subclass of toxic serum HDL, called trypanosome lytic factor-1 (TLF-1). This HDL contains two primate specific proteins, apolipoprotein L-1 and haptoglobin (Hp)-related protein, as well as apolipoprotein A-1. These assembled proteins provide a powerful defense against trypanosome infection. Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense causes human African sleeping sickness because it has evolved an inhibitor of TLF-1, serum resistance-associated (SRA) protein. Trypanosoma brucei gambiense lacks the SRA gene, yet it infects humans. As transfection of T. b. gambiense (group 1) is not possible, we initially used in vitro-selected TLF-1-resistant T. b. brucei to examine SRA-independent mechanisms of TLF-1 resistance. Here we show that TLF-1 resistance in T. b. brucei is caused by reduced expression of the Hp/Hb receptor gene (TbbHpHbR). Importantly, T. b. gambiense (group 1) also showed a marked reduction in uptake of TLF-1 and a corresponding decrease in expression of T. b. gambiense Hp/Hb receptor (TbgHpHbR). Ectopic expression of TbbHpHbR in TLF-1-resistant T. b. brucei rescued TLF-1 uptake, demonstrating that decreased TbbHpHbR expression conferred TLF-1 resistance. Ectopic expression of TbgHpHbR in TLF-1-resistant T. b. brucei failed to rescue TLF-1 killing, suggesting that coding sequence changes altered Hp/Hb receptor binding affinity for TLF-1. We propose that the combination of coding sequence mutations and decreased expression of TbgHpHbR directly contribute to parasite evasion of human innate immunity and infectivity of group 1 T. b. gambiense.