MAR 27, 2015 11:03 AM PDT

Master of disguise: Parasite changes "costumes" to outsmart the immune system

WRITTEN BY: Robert Woodard
Microscopy image of Trypanosoma brucei, the African sleeping sickness parasiteA team at Rockefeller University tracked the appearance and disappearance of protein coats within the blood of mice infected by Trypanosoma brucei. They found an unexpected diversity in disguises presented by the parasite at any one time and challenge the conventional understanding of the dynamics that allow the parasite to persist.

Orchestrated costume changes such as these make it possible for microbes like T. brucei to evade the immune system, which would otherwise recognize them by the protein coats they wear. By taking a detailed look at how the parasite periodically assumes a new protein disguise during a long-term infection, new research at Rockefeller University challenges assumptions about one of the best-known examples of this strategy, called antigenic variation, in the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.

T. brucei is spread by the Tsetse fly in rural Africa. It travels through the blood and across the blood-brain barrier to cause potentially fatal disease that disrupts circadian rhythms, hence the name sleeping sickness. T. brucei, like the malaria parasite and some other pathogens, relies on antigenic variation to stay one step ahead of their hosts' immune systems.

Many animals, including humans, have immune systems capable of learning to recognize pathogens based on those pathogens' antigens, usually proteins on their surface. After encountering an antigen, the immune system generates its own proteins called antibodies to target that antigen. By continually changing antigens, a pathogen evades those antibodies.

The study was published on March 27 in Science.
About the Author
You May Also Like
MAR 30, 2021
Immunology
Single-Cell Technology Exposes Melanoma's Weak Spot
MAR 30, 2021
Single-Cell Technology Exposes Melanoma's Weak Spot
The immune system encompasses a powerful arsenal of weapons against pathogenic threats. But what stops healthy tissues i ...
APR 22, 2021
Immunology
Healthy, Young People Are Getting Reinfected With COVID
APR 22, 2021
Healthy, Young People Are Getting Reinfected With COVID
If you’re young and healthy and you’ve had COVID, your body will produce protective antibodies that guard yo ...
MAY 19, 2021
Immunology
Intestinal Macrophages Promote Chronic Inflammation in Obesity
MAY 19, 2021
Intestinal Macrophages Promote Chronic Inflammation in Obesity
A research group from Switzerland hypothesized that immune cells in the gut (gastrointestinal tract) must trigger chroni ...
MAY 24, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Animal Trial of Asthma Vaccine Has Positive Results
MAY 24, 2021
Animal Trial of Asthma Vaccine Has Positive Results
Asthma is thought to affect 340 million people. A type of asthma that happens when allergens like dust mites are inhaled ...
JUL 22, 2021
Immunology
"Stunning" Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Fermented Food Diet
JUL 22, 2021
"Stunning" Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Fermented Food Diet
Researchers at Stanford University have found that consuming fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha te ...
JUL 29, 2021
Immunology
Scientists Discover Bacterial Life on Human Fetuses
JUL 29, 2021
Scientists Discover Bacterial Life on Human Fetuses
A developing fetus in its second trimester of life is changing at an extraordinarily rapid pace––bones are b ...
Loading Comments...