More than immune evasion – a variant surface glycoprotein causes in vitro suramin resistance in Trypanosoma brucei

Mon9  Apr05:00pm(15 mins)
Stream 1 - Edward Llwyd 0.26 Biology Main


N Wiedemar2; M Zwyer2; M Zoltner1; F E Graf2; E Ndomba3; C Kunz Renggli3; M Cal3; R S Schmidt3; T Wenzler3; M C Field1; P Mäser3
1 Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, UK;  2 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland;  3 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland, Switzerland


Suramin is the drug of choice to treat the first stage of the acute form of sleeping sickness, caused by T. brucei rhodesiense. Despite its use for a century, knowledge about the drug is still limited. Investigating drug resistance mechanisms can help to identify the target, transport and mode of action of a drug. For suramin, we observed the emergence of a high resistance in a T. b. rhodesiense strain (STIB900) after exposure to the drug for only few days. Here we investigate the genetic and biochemical mechanisms behind this phenomenon.

A fresh STIB900 clone was exposed to suramin in vitro and four independently selected, resistant derivatives were generated. They were phenotypically characterized and mRNA sequencing was carried out to find differentially expressed genes between suramin sensitive and resistant cells. The identified candidate gene was validated by reverse genetic in situ gene replacement. And the effect on endocytosis of different substrates was investigated by FACS and fluorescence microscopy.

Suramin resistant derivatives were obtained after 6 days of selection and showed a resistance factor around 100-fold compared to the sensitive parent clone. They were cross-resistant to trypan blue and had a mild growth defect. Gene expression analysis revealed a switch to the same variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), termed VSGSur, in all the resistant derivatives. No other genes were differentially expressed between resistant and sensitive cells. We then introduced VSG900, which was expressed in the sensitive parent clone, into the active expression site of one resistant derivative, and thereby replaced VSGSur. Through this manipulation, the cells completely lost their resistance. Complementary, the introduction of VSGSur into the active expression site of T. b. brucei 2T1 cells led to suramin resistance. Upon expression of VSGSur, uptake of trypan blue was reduced, and uptake of low density lipoprotein and transferrin were highly reduced.

Here we describe a previously unknown VSG (VSGSur), which causes a strong suramin resistance. The expression of VSGSur not only confers resistance, but also alters the uptake of a number of substrates including nutrients, thus supposedly has a major impact on the biology of the cells.

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