DNA rearrangements of the variable surface antigen genes of the trypanosomes. Academic Article uri icon


  • The trypanosome genome contains several hundred (and perhaps several thousand) genes for the trypanosome variable surface glycoproteins (VSGs). In an individual trypanosome only one of these genes is expressed at a given instant; the others are transcriptionally silent. This differential gene expression is responsible for the sequential antigenic variation displayed by trypanosomes. It is mediated by two types of genomic rearrangements of these VSG genes. The best understood rearrangement type is the formation of a transcriptionally-active expression-linked extra copy (ELC) of a transcriptionally-silent basic copy (BC) gene. This duplication and translocation event places the ELC near a chromosomal end (a telomere) where it is apparently located downstream from a strong promotor. Some VSG genes are not expressed via this ELC mechanism. These genes, which seem to already be near telomeres, are activated by a different non-duplication associated ( NDA ) type of mechanism. We have used recombinant DNA techniques to clone and determine the sequences of genes expressed by both the ELC and NDA mechanisms. Comparison of these sequences reveals that sequences flanking the VSG coding regions are similar. This indicates that there is a sequence correlation between the two mechanisms of expression. We have also shown that when bloodstream trypanosomes expressing a specific VSG via the ELC mechanism are established in culture, the resultant procyclic trypanosomes rapidly stop synthesizing the VSG mRNA (and the VSG) but retain the ELC of the VSG gene. This demonstrates that transcription of an ELC can cease without the loss of that ELC and may indicate the presence of other factors regulating VSG gene transcription.

published proceedings

  • J Protozool

author list (cited authors)

  • Murphy, W. J., Brentano, S. T., Rice-Ficht, A. C., Dorfman, D. M., & Donelson, J. E.

citation count

  • 27

complete list of authors

  • Murphy, WJ||Brentano, ST||Rice-Ficht, AC||Dorfman, DM||Donelson, JE

publication date

  • February 1984