Shape-shifting trypanosomes: Flagellar shortening followed by asymmetric division in Trypanosoma congolense from the tsetse proventriculus

Lori Peacock, Christopher Kay, Mick Bailey, Wendy Gibson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

8 Citations (Scopus)
268 Downloads (Pure)


Trypanosomatids such as Leishmania and Trypanosoma are digenetic, single-celled, parasitic flagellates that undergo complex life cycles involving morphological and metabolic changes to fit them for survival in different environments within their mammalian and insect hosts. According to current consensus, asymmetric division enables trypanosomatids to achieve the major morphological rearrangements associated with transition between developmental stages. Contrary to this view, here we show that the African trypanosome Trypanosoma congolense, an important livestock pathogen, undergoes extensive cell remodelling, involving shortening of the cell body and flagellum, during its transition from free-swimming proventricular forms to attached epimastigotes in vitro. Shortening of the flagellum was associated with accumulation of PFR1, a major constituent of the paraflagellar rod, in the mid-region of the flagellum where it was attached to the substrate. However, the PFR1 depot was not essential for attachment, as it accumulated several hours after initial attachment of proventricular trypanosomes. Detergent and CaCl2treatment failed to dislodge attached parasites, demonstrating the robust nature of flagellar attachment to the substrate; the PFR1 depot was also unaffected by these treatments. Division of the remodelled proventricular trypanosome was asymmetric, producing a small daughter cell. Each mother cell went on to produce at least one more daughter cell, while the daughter trypanosomes also proliferated, eventually resulting in a dense culture of epimastigotes. Here, by observing the synchronous development of the homogeneous population of trypanosomes in the tsetse proventriculus, we have been able to examine the transition from proventricular forms to attached epimastigotes in detail in T. congolense. This transition is difficult to observe in vivo as it happens inside the mouthparts of the tsetse fly. In T. brucei, this transition is achieved by asymmetric division of long trypomastigotes in the proventriculus, yielding short epimastigotes, which go on to colonise the salivary glands. Thus, despite their close evolutionary relationship and shared developmental route within the vector, T. brucei and T. congolense have evolved different ways of accomplishing the same developmental transition from proventricular form to attached epimastigote.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1007043
Number of pages22
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018

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