Comparative genomics of drug resistance in Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense

Fabrice E. Graf, Philipp Ludin, Christian Arquint, Remo S. Schmidt, Nadia Schaub, Christina Kunz Renggli, Jane C. Munday, Jessica Krezdorn, Nicola Baker, David Horn, Oliver Balmer, Adalgisa Caccone, Harry P. de Koning, Pascal Mäser (Lead / Corresponding author)

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22 Citations (Scopus)
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Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense is one of the causative agents of human sleeping sickness, a fatal disease that is transmitted by tsetse flies and restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. Here we investigate two independent lines of T. b. rhodesiense that have been selected with the drugs melarsoprol and pentamidine over the course of 2 years, until they exhibited stable cross-resistance to an unprecedented degree. We apply comparative genomics and transcriptomics to identify the underlying mutations. Only few mutations have become fixed during selection. Three genes were affected by mutations in both lines: the aminopurine transporter AT1, the aquaporin AQP2, and the RNA-binding protein UBP1. The melarsoprol-selected line carried a large deletion including the adenosine transporter gene AT1, whereas the pentamidine-selected line carried a heterozygous point mutation in AT1, G430R, which rendered the transporter non-functional. Both resistant lines had lost AQP2, and both lines carried the same point mutation, R131L, in the RNA-binding motif of UBP1. The finding that concomitant deletion of the known resistance genes AT1 and AQP2 in T. b. brucei failed to phenocopy the high levels of resistance of the T. b. rhodesiense mutants indicated a possible role of UBP1 in melarsoprol–pentamidine cross-resistance. However, homozygous in situ expression of UBP1-Leu131 in T. b. brucei did not affect the sensitivity to melarsoprol or pentamidine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3387-3400
Number of pages14
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number17
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


  • African trypanosomes
  • Aquaporin
  • Melarsoprol
  • Pentamidine
  • Purine permease
  • RNA-binding protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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