Interspecies quorum sensing in co-infections can manipulate trypanosome transmission potential

Eleanor Silvester, Julie Young, Alasdair Ivens, Keith Matthews

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Quorum sensing (QS) is commonly used in microbial communities and some unicellular parasites to coordinate group behaviours 1,2 . An example is Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human African trypanosomiasis, as well as the livestock disease, nagana. Trypanosomes are spread by tsetse flies, their transmission being enabled by cell-cycle arrested 'stumpy forms' that are generated in a density-dependent manner in mammalian blood. QS is mediated through a small (<500 Da), non-proteinaceous, stable but unidentified 'stumpy induction factor' 3 , whose signal response pathway has been identified. Although QS is characterized in T. brucei, co-infections with other trypanosomespecies (Trypanosoma congolense and Trypanosoma vivax) are common in animals, generating the potential for interspecies interactions. Here, we show that T. congolense exhibits density-dependent growth control in vivo and conserves QS regulatory genes, of which one can complement a T. brucei QS signal-blind mutant to restore stumpy formation. Thereafter, we demonstrate that T. congolense-conditioned culture medium promotes T. brucei stumpy formation in vitro, which is dependent on the integrity of the QS signalling pathway. Finally, we show that, in vivo, co-infection with T. congolense accelerates differentiation to stumpy forms in T. brucei, which is also QS dependent. These cross-species interactions have important implications for trypanosome virulence, transmission, competition and evolution in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1471-1479
Number of pages12
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number11
Early online date4 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Parasite biology
  • Paresite development


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