Assessing Trypanosoma cruzi Parasite Diversity through Comparative Genomics: Implications for Disease Epidemiology and Diagnostics

Pathogens. 2021 Feb 16;10(2):212. doi: 10.3390/pathogens10020212.


Chagas disease is an important vector-borne neglected tropical disease that causes great health and economic losses. The etiological agent, Trypanosoma cruzi, is a protozoan parasite endemic to the Americas, comprised by important diversity, which has been suggested to contribute to poor serological diagnostic performance. Current nomenclature describes seven discrete typing units (DTUs), or lineages. We performed the first large scale analysis of T. cruzi diversity among 52 previously published genomes from strains covering multiple countries and parasite DTUs and assessed how different markers summarize this genetic diversity. We also examined how seven antigens currently used in commercial serologic tests are conserved across this diversity of strains. DTU structuration was confirmed at the whole-genome level, with evidence of sub-DTU diversity, associated in part to geographic structuring. We observed very comparable phylogenetic tree topographies for most of the 32 markers investigated, with clear clustering of sequences by DTU, and a few of these markers suggested some degree of intra-lineage diversity. At least three of the currently used antigens represent poorly conserved sequences, with sequences used in tests quite divergent from sequences in many strains. Most markers are well suited for estimating parasite diversity to DTU level, and a few are particularly well-suited to assess intra-DTU diversity. Analysis of antigen sequences across all strains indicates that antigenic diversity is a likely explanation for limited diagnostic performance in Central and North America.

Keywords: Chagas disease; Trypanosoma cruzi; antigen; polymorphism; strain diversity.