Many pathogens evade host immunity by periodically changing the proteins they express on their surface - a phenomenon termed antigenic variation. An extreme form of antigenic variation, based around switching the composition of a variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat, is exhibited by the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human disease. The molecular details of VSG switching in T. brucei have been extensively studied over the last three decades, revealing in increasing detail the machinery and mechanisms by which VSG expression is controlled and altered. However, several key components of the models of T. brucei antigenic variation that have emerged have been challenged through recent discoveries. These discoveries include new appreciation of the importance of gene mosaics in generating huge levels of new VSG variants, the contributions of parasite development and body compartmentation in the host to the infection dynamics and, finally, potential differences in the strategies of antigenic variation and host infection used by the crucial livestock trypanosomes T. congolense and T. vivax. This review will discuss all these observations, which raise questions regarding how secure the existing models of trypanosome antigenic variation are. In addition, we will discuss the importance of continued mathematical modelling to understand the purpose of this widespread immune survival process.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)