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ABSTRACT: African trypanosomes are sustained in the bloodstream of their mammalian hosts by their extreme capacity for antigenic variation. However, for life cycle progression, trypanosomes also must generate transmission stages called stumpy forms that are pre-adapted to survive when taken up during the bloodmeal of the disease vector, tsetse flies. These stumpy forms are rather different to the proliferative slender forms that maintain the bloodstream parasitaemia. Firstly, they are non proliferative and morphologically distinct, secondly, they show particular sensitivity to environmental cues that signal entry to the tsetse fly and, thirdly, they are relatively robust such that they survive the changes in temperature, pH and proteolytic environment encountered within the tsetse midgut. These characteristics require regulated changes in gene expression to pre-adapt the parasite and the use of environmental sensing mechanisms, both of which allow the rapid initiation of differentiation to tsetse midgut procyclic forms upon transmission. Interestingly, the generation of stumpy forms is also regulated and periodic in the mammalian blood, this being governed by a density-sensing mechanism whereby a parasite-derived signal drives cell cycle arrest and cellular development both to optimize transmission and to prevent uncontrolled parasite multiplication overwhelming the host. In this review we detail recent developments in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underpin the production of stumpy forms in the mammalian bloodstream and their signal perception pathways both in the mammalian bloodstream and upon entry into the tsetse fly. These discoveries are discussed in the context of conserved eukaryotic signaling and differentiation mechanisms. Further, their potential to act as targets for therapeutic strategies that disrupt parasite development either in the mammalian bloodstream or upon their transmission to tsetse flies is also discussed.
Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology 01/2013; 3:78.