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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Capping of variable antigen on Trypanosoma brucei, and its immunological and biological significance.

Pathogenic trypanosomes undergo antigenic variation, whereby the glycoprotein molecules constituting the cell coat are changed, the parasite thus evading the host's immune response. On application of homologous antiserum in indirect immunofluorescence to a given variable antigen type of Trypanosoma brucei, the surface variable antigen moves to the flagellar pocket region, which overlies the Golgi apparatus. This redistribution, or capping, is temperature-dependent, occurring at 37 degrees C but not at 0-4 degree C. Patching does not occur at either temperature. Immediately after capping no homologous or heterologous variable antigen, or host plasma or blood cell antigens, can be detected by immunofluorescence on the cell surface outside the cap; only trypanosome membrane common antigens can be found. It seems unlikely for two reasons that this antibody-induced redistribution is relevant to antigenic variation. Capping of the coat requires the indirect, rather than the direct, immunofluorescent method; a single layer of antibody, in nature, would appear to be ineffective. Also, capping of variable antigen of one type is followed within 3 h by appearance of antigen of the same, and not another, type. The necessity for 2 antibody layers is usually thought of as meaning that the individual molecules of the cell surface antigen are spaced further apart than the binding sites of an individual antibody molecule, so that the necessary cross-linked lattice cannot be formed, but on T. brucei the surface variable antigen molecules are very closely packed. It is proposed that one layer of antibody is ineffective for steric reasons; the dimensions of the exposed face of each variable antigen molecule may not permit the binding of more than one molecule of immunoglobulin, or perhaps the antigen molecules are so closely packed that most of the antigenic determinants are hidden from antibodies. To test this hypothesis, an attempt was made to cap variable antigen on trypanosomes transforming in vitro from the bloodstream to the procyclic (insect midgut) stage; such forms have a much less densely packed surface coat. Patching was observed, indicative of lattice formation, but these trypanosomes did not survive the in vitro manipulation long enough to permit any possible capping. T. brucei differs structurally from most other eukaryotic cells. It has no detectable microfilaments under the plasma membrane, except at the desmosomes in the region of flagellar binding, and it also has a pellicular cortex of microtubules. Capping of its surface antigen would appear then to differ from that on mammalian cells, either in the cellular components involved or in that specialized areas of the plasma membrane are involved.[1]


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