A novel phosphatase cascade regulates differentiation in Trypanosoma brucei via a glycosomal signaling pathway

Genes Dev. 2010 Jun 15;24(12):1306-16. doi: 10.1101/gad.570310.


In the mammalian bloodstream, the sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei is held poised for transmission by the activity of a tyrosine phosphatase, TbPTP1. This prevents differentiation of the transmissible "stumpy forms" until entry into the tsetse fly, whereupon TbPTP1 is inactivated and major changes in parasite physiology are initiated to allow colonization of the arthropod vector. Using a substrate-trapping approach, we identified the downstream step in this developmental signaling pathway as a DxDxT phosphatase, TbPIP39, which is activated upon tyrosine phosphorylation, and hence is negatively regulated by TbPTP1. In vitro, TbPIP39 promotes the activity of TbPTP1, thereby reinforcing its own repression, this being alleviated by the trypanosome differentiation triggers citrate and cis-aconitate, generating a potentially bistable regulatory switch. Supporting a role in signal transduction, TbPIP39 becomes rapidly tyrosine-phosphorylated during differentiation, and RNAi-mediated transcript ablation in stumpy forms inhibits parasite development. Interestingly, TbPIP39 localizes in glycosomes, peroxisome-like organelles that compartmentalize the trypanosome glycolytic reactions among other enzymatic activities. Our results invoke a phosphatase signaling cascade in which the developmental signal is trafficked to a unique metabolic organelle in the parasite: the glycosome. This is the first characterized environmental signaling pathway targeted directly to a peroxisome-like organelle in any eukaryotic cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Life Cycle Stages / physiology
  • Mice
  • Microbodies / metabolism*
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases / metabolism*
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases / metabolism*
  • RNA Interference
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / cytology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / enzymology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / growth & development
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / physiology*


  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases