Multiple levels of gene regulation mediate differentiation of the intracellular pathogen Leishmania

FASEB J. 2011 Feb;25(2):515-25. doi: 10.1096/fj.10-157529. Epub 2010 Oct 15.


For many years, mRNA abundance has been used as the surrogate measure of gene expression in biological systems. However, recent genome-scale analyses in both bacteria and eukaryotes have revealed that mRNA levels correlate with steady-state protein abundance for only 50-70% of genes, indicating that translation and post-translation processes also play important roles in determining gene expression. What is not yet clear is whether dynamic processes such as cell cycle progression, differentiation, or response to environmental changes change the relationship between mRNA and protein abundance. Here, we describe a systems approach to interrogate promastigote-to-amastigote differentiation in the obligatory intracellular parasitic protozoan Leishmania donovani. Our results indicate that regulation of mRNA levels plays a major role early in the differentiation process, while translation and post-translational regulation are more important in the latter part. In addition, it appears that the differentiation signal causes a transient global increase in the rate of protein synthesis, which is subsequently down-regulated by phosphorylation of α-subunit of translation initiation factor 2. Thus, Leishmania dynamically changes the relationship between mRNA and protein abundance as it adapts to new environmental circumstances. It is likely that similar mechanisms play a more important role than previously recognized in regulation of gene expression in other organisms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Leishmania donovani / genetics*
  • Leishmania donovani / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Protein Folding
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • RNA, Protozoan / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Protozoan