Beyond immune escape: a variant surface glycoprotein causes suramin resistance in Trypanosoma brucei

Natalie Wiedemar, Fabrice E. Graf, Michaela Zwyer, Emiliana Ndomba, Christina Kunz Renggli, Monica Cal, Remo S. Schmidt, Tanja Wenzler, Pascal Mäser (Lead / Corresponding author)

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Suramin is one of the first drugs developed in a medicinal chemistry program (Bayer, 1916), and it is still the treatment of choice for the hemolymphatic stage of African sleeping sickness caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. Cellular uptake of suramin occurs by endocytosis, and reverse genetic studies with T. b. brucei have linked downregulation of the endocytic pathway to suramin resistance. Here we show that forward selection for suramin resistance in T. brucei spp. cultures is fast, highly reproducible and linked to antigenic variation. Bloodstream-form trypanosomes are covered by a dense coat of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), which protects them from their mammalian hosts' immune defenses. Each T. brucei genome contains over 2000 different VSG genes, but only one is expressed at a time. An expression switch to one particular VSG, termed VSGSur, correlated with suramin resistance. Reintroduction of the originally expressed VSG gene in resistant T. brucei restored suramin susceptibility. This is the first report of a link between antigenic variation and drug resistance in African trypanosomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-67
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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