Surface antigenic variation in Giardia lamblia

Mol Microbiol. 2002 Aug;45(3):585-90. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2002.03029.x.


Giardia lamblia, a common intestinal dwelling protozoan and a cause of diarrhoea in humans and animals world-wide, undergoes surface antigenic variation. The variant-specific surface proteins (VSPs) are a family of related, highly unusual proteins that cover the entire surface of the parasite. VSPs are cysteine-rich proteins containing many CXXC motifs, one or two GGCY motifs, a conserved hydrophobic tail and a Zn finger motif. The biological role(s) of VSPs is unclear. As VSPs are resistant to the effects of intestinal proteases, they likely allow the organism to survive in the protease-rich small intestine. Although immune escape is commonly mentioned as the reason antigenic variation occurs, VSP expression changes in vivo even in the absence of an adaptive immune system suggesting the biological role of antigenic variation is more complex. The molecular mechanisms involved in antigenic variation are not known but appear to differ from those known to occur in other protozoa.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / genetics*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology
  • Antigens, Protozoan / metabolism
  • Antigens, Surface / immunology
  • Giardia lamblia / genetics*
  • Giardia lamblia / immunology
  • Giardia lamblia / metabolism
  • Giardiasis / immunology
  • Giardiasis / parasitology


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Antigens, Surface