Switching trypanosome coats: what's in the wardrobe?

Trends Genet. 2006 Nov;22(11):614-20. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2006.08.003. Epub 2006 Aug 14.


The African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei is best known for its extraordinarily sophisticated antigenic variation of a protective variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat. T. brucei has >1000 VSG genes and pseudogenes, of which one is transcribed at a time from one of multiple telomeric VSG expression sites. Switching the active VSG gene can involve DNA rearrangements replacing the old VSG with a new one, or alternatively transcriptional control. The astonishing revelation from the T. brucei genome sequence is that <7% of the sequenced VSGs seem to have fully functional coding regions. This preponderance of pseudogenes in the VSG gene repertoire will necessitate a rethink of how antigenic variation in African trypanosomes operates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • Pseudogenes
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / genetics*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / immunology
  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma / genetics*
  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma / immunology


  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma