Assessing stumpy formation and stumpy-specific gene expression in Trypanosoma brucei
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During the bloodstream stage of the Trypanosoma brucei lifecycle, the parasite exists in two different states: the proliferative slender form and the non-proliferative, transmissible, stumpy form. The transition from the slender to stumpy form is stimulated by a density-dependent mechanism and is important in infection dynamics, ordered antigenic variation and disease transmissibility. The slender to stumpy transition and the contribution of stumpy formation to within-host dynamics have been difficult to analyse, however, because cell-type specific markers have been restricted to imprecise morphological criteria. PAD1 is a recently identified stumpy-specific protein which acts as a molecular marker for stumpy formation and a functional marker for transmission. Here, the control of stumpy-specific gene expression via the 3’UTR has been analysed, identifying that there are repressive elements in the 3’UTR preventing inappropriate expression during the slender life stage. Further, both pleomorphic and monomorphic transgenic reporter cell lines utilising the PAD1 3’UTR have been created that report on stumpy formation in vitro and these have been used for the analysis of stumpyinducing chemical compounds. Finally, a sensitive and accurate qRT-PCR assay has been developed and optimised that faithfully reports both parasitaemia and stumpy formation throughout host infection. Using a chronic infection rodent model, stumpy levels have been monitored on the basis of conventional morphological and cell cycle assays, as well as by qRT-PCR for PAD1 expression. The results define the temporal order of events that result in the generation of stumpy forms early in a parasite infection and thereafter describe the dynamics of slender and stumpy forms in chronic infections extending over several weeks. This quantitative data has allowed the mathematical modelling of transmission competence in trypanosome infections, suggesting dominance of transmission stages throughout infection.