An Introduction to Antigenic Variation in Trypanosomes

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  • Department of Immunochemistry, Wellcome Research Laboratories, Beckenham, Kent BR3 3BS, England

The salivarian trypanosomes have a unique capacity for antigenic variation at the cell surface. This phenomenon is their primary mechanism for evasion of the host's immune response. Variation is mediated through alternate expression of an extensive repertoire of variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs). Extensive amino acid sequence diversity is responsible for the antigenic diversity of VSGs. All the isolated VSGs of Trypanosoma brucei studied also contain an immunologically cross-reacting glycosyl side chain at the C-terminus, which probably represents a recognition site for proteolytic processing of the hydrophobic putative membrane-binding tail present on the synthesized molecule but not so far found on purified VSGs.

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