Do different African trypanosome species share quorum-sensing signal responses?
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The protozoan parasites Trypanosoma brucei brucei, Trypanosoma congolense and Trypanosoma vivax cause Animal African Trypanosomiasis, a disease responsible for costly livestock pathology and economic losses in Africa. Each of these African trypanosomes are vector-borne and transmitted by the blood-feeding tsetse fly. Additional blood-feeding vectors can spread T. vivax, extending its range into South America. T. b. brucei infection of the mammalian host progresses in waves, with periodic clearance of antigenic variants. Accumulation of slender parasites in the blood is accompanied by accumulation of the density-sensing factor, SIF (stumpy induction factor). SIF drives differentiation from the proliferative slender form to the growth arrested stumpy form at the peak of parasitaemia. This differentiation step aids host survival, and the stumpy form is pre-adapted for continuation of development in the tsetse fly, ensuring transmissibility. Despite facing challenges comparable to T. b. brucei during their life cycle, T. congolense and T. vivax are not found to have morphologically distinguishable slender and stumpy forms. The growth control mechanisms used by these important veterinary pathogens have been investigated in this thesis. Particular focus has been placed on the conservation of quorum sensing pathways within the African Trypanosomes. The potential for cross-species communication has implications for co-infections. T. congolense was found to undergo growth arrest at peak parasitaemia, and transcriptomic changes occurring between ascending and peak parasitaemia were identified and comparisons made to T. b. brucei slender and stumpy transcriptomes. In an examination of the conservation of the SIF-responsive pathway, expression of a T. congolense orthologue was found to rescue stumpy formation in an otherwise SIF-resistant null mutant for the corresponding T. b. brucei gene. The capacity for cross-talk between density-sensing signals in different trypanosome species was tested using conditioned medium from T. congolense bloodstream form cultures. This could activate the expression of a stumpy specific reporter protein in T. b. brucei. A cell line deficient in a SIF-responsive gene showed resistance to the conditioned medium with a delay in reporter expression. These results highlight the unanticipated capacity for different trypanosome species to exhibit intra and inter specific cell-cell communication in the mammalian bloodstream, with possible consequences for their virulence, transmission and evolution.