DNA Recombination Strategies During Antigenic Variation in the African Trypanosome

Richard McCulloch, Liam Morrison, James P. J. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Survival of the African trypanosome in its mammalian hosts has led to the evolution of antigenic variation, a process for evasion of adaptive immunity that has independently evolved in many other viral, bacterial and eukaryotic pathogens. The essential features of trypanosome antigenic variation have been understood for many years and comprise a dense, protective Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) coat, which can be changed by recombination-based and transcription-based processes that focus on telomeric VSG gene transcription sites. However, it is only recently that the scale of this process has been truly appreciated. Genome sequencing of Trypanosoma brucei has revealed a massive archive of >1000 VSG genes, the huge majority of which are functionally impaired but are used to generate far greater numbers of VSG coats through segmental gene conversion. This chapter will discuss the implications of such VSG diversity for immune evasion by antigenic variation, and will consider how this expressed diversity can arise, drawing on a growing body of work that has begun to examine the proteins and sequences through which VSG switching is catalyzed. Most studies of trypanosome antigenic variation have focused on T. brucei, the causative agent of human sleeping sickness. Other work has begun to look at antigenic variation in animal-infective trypanosomes, and we will compare the findings that are emerging, as well as consider how antigenic variation relates to the dynamics of host–trypanosome interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberMDNA3-0016-2014
Number of pages25
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'DNA Recombination Strategies During Antigenic Variation in the African Trypanosome'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this