Development 139, 1812-1820 (2012) doi:10.1242/dev.072611
© 2012. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
A new asymmetric division contributes to the continuous
production of infective trypanosomes in the tsetse fly
Trypanosoma brucei are protozoan parasites that are responsible
for human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness, a re-
emerging disease in numerous areas of Africa (Chappuis et al.,
2010; Fevre et al., 2008; Simarro et al., 2008). African
trypanosomes also cause ‘nagana’ in cattle with major socio-
economical impacts (Brun et al., 2009). They proliferate as
extracellular parasites in the bloodstream of their mammalian host
and can, later on, cross the blood-brain barrier to provoke severe
neurological symptoms that are fatal in the absence of treatment
(Brun et al., 2009). Trypanosomes evade the host immune response
by a sophisticated process of antigenic variation involving a dense
surface coat of a single type of protein called variant surface
glycoprotein (Berriman et al., 2005; Cross, 1975; Taylor and
Rudenko, 2006). There is no vaccine and treatments are difficult to
administer in rural areas and can provoke severe side effects (Brun
et al., 2009).
African trypanosomes are transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly
and the geographical repartition of Glossina vectors governs the
distribution of sleeping sickness (Brun et al., 2009; Simarro et al.,
2008). A tsetse fly becomes infected during a blood meal on an
infected mammal. To complete their life cycle, trypanosomes need
to reach the tsetse salivary glands and to transform into infective
metacyclic parasites that are found free in the saliva. This is not
direct and requires several migration, proliferation and
differentiation steps that take place in a strictly defined
chronological order in specific fly tissues (up to 3 weeks) (Oberle
et al., 2010; Rotureau et al., 2011; Sharma et al., 2008; Van Den
Abbeele et al., 1999; Vickerman, 1985). Once trypanosomes are
present in the salivary glands, a fly can produce hundreds of
metacyclic parasites per day (Otieno and Darji, 1979) and remains
infective for its whole life (~3 months), a meaningful fact
considering that a rather low proportion of flies is infected (< 0.1%)
(Aksoy et al., 2003; Brun et al., 2009). Moreover, fly behavior is
altered by trypanosome infection that modifies the salivary
composition, resulting in a drastically reduced anti-hemostatic
potential and a hampered feeding performance. This forces infected
flies to feed more often and for longer periods, which favors
parasite transmission (Van Den Abbeele et al., 2010). Despite its
crucial role in transmission, the way in which the continuous
production of infective parasites is ensured in the salivary glands
of the tsetse remains undetermined.
At least three main parasite morphotypes have been reported in
the tsetse salivary glands (supplementary material Table S1): one
epimastigote stage, where the basal body of the flagellum, which
is linked to the DNA of the single mitochondrion (kinetoplast)
(Robinson and Gull, 1991), is found in an anterior position relative
to the nucleus; and two trypomastigote stages, where the basal
body/kinetoplast complex is present at the posterior end of the cell.
The epimastigote form and the first type of trypomastigote, called
pre-metacyclic, are both attached to the salivary gland epithelium
via elaborate extensions of their flagellum membrane (Tetley and
Vickerman, 1985). The second type of trypomastigote is the free-
swimming metacyclic form, the only one to be infective for
mammals. Dividing attached epimastigotes have been reported
(Steiger, 1973; Tetley and Vickerman, 1985; Vickerman, 1985;
Vickerman et al., 1988) but their abundance, their mode of division
and their significance for the parasite cycle has not been
established. Some of these epimastigotes were recently observed to
Trypanosome Cell Biology Unit, Institut Pasteur & CNRS, URA 2581, 25 rue du
Docteur Roux, 75015 Paris, France.
*Author for correspondence (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Accepted 30 January 2012
African trypanosomes are flagellated protozoan parasites that cause sleeping sickness and are transmitted by the bite of the
tsetse fly. To complete their life cycle in the insect, trypanosomes reach the salivary glands and transform into the metacyclic
infective form. The latter are expelled with the saliva at each blood meal during the whole life of the insect. Here, we reveal a
means by which the continuous production of infective parasites could be ensured. Dividing trypanosomes present in the salivary
glands of infected tsetse flies were monitored by live video-microscopy and by quantitative immunofluorescence analysis using
molecular markers for the cytoskeleton and for surface antigens. This revealed the existence of two distinct modes of
trypanosome proliferation occurring simultaneously in the salivary glands. The first cycle produces two equivalent cells that are
not competent for infection and are attached to the epithelium. This mode of proliferation is predominant at the early steps of
infection, ensuring a rapid colonization of the glands. The second mode is more frequent at later stages of infection and involves
an asymmetric division. It produces a daughter cell that matures into the infective metacyclic form that is released in the saliva, as
demonstrated by the expression of specific molecular markers – the calflagins. The levels of these calcium-binding proteins
increase exclusively in the new flagellum during the asymmetric division, showing the commitment of the future daughter cell to
differentiation. The coordination of these two alternative cell cycles contributes to the continuous production of infective
parasites, turning the tsetse fly into an efficient and long-lasting vector for African trypanosomes.
KEY WORDS: Trypanosoma brucei, Glossina, Asymmetric division, Differentiation, Infection
Brice Rotureau*, Ines Subota, Johanna Buisson and Philippe Bastin
Development ePress online publication date 4 April 2012
Infective trypanosome production
complete the first meiotic division (Peacock et al., 2011); however,
the second step of the meiotic program, the subsequent cell fusion
and the significance of these phenomena in trypanosome
development remain to be clarified. Metacyclic trypanosomes
express a variant surface glycoprotein coat (Vickerman, 1978) and
are expelled at each blood meal with the saliva. They have been
proposed to derive from the progressive migration of the
kinetoplast to the posterior end, accompanied by the resorption of
the flagellum membrane and the detachment from the epithelium,
concomitant with the acquisition of a variant surface glycoprotein
coat (Tetley and Vickerman, 1985). However, this model might not
completely explain the continuous production of infective
metacyclic parasites throughout the whole life of the vector
(Sharma et al., 2009). We therefore investigated how trypanosomes
proliferate in the salivary glands and how this process could be
coupled to differentiation.
Trypanosomes were monitored by live video microscopy and
by immunofluorescence using different molecular probes for
cytoskeleton components, cell cycle markers and surface
antigens to examine cell morphogenesis and parasite division in
the salivary glands. We reveal the existence of two alternative
modes of trypanosome proliferation occurring simultaneously in
the salivary glands. The first one produces two equivalent
progenies that are not competent for infection and remain
attached to the epithelium. The second one results in an
asymmetric division, producing a daughter that is apparently
similar to its mother, and a daughter that differentiates to become
infective. Remarkably, the first mode of proliferation is abundant
at the early stages of infection, ensuring colonization of the
salivary glands, whereas the second one is predominant at later
stages. The balance between these two modes of division
contributes to the continuous production of infective parasites in
the saliva to ensure efficient transmission to the next mammalian
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Trypanosome strains and cultures
The pleomorphic strain Trypanosoma brucei brucei AnTat1.1 (Le Ray et
al., 1977) was used throughout this study. AnTat1.1 procyclic
trypanosomes nucleofected with the GFP-expressing construct pHD67E
(Bingle et al., 2001) were also used to monitor parasite attachment and
development within tissues. Cultures of bloodstream and procyclic forms
were performed as described previously (Rotureau et al., 2011).
Tsetse fly infection, maintenance and dissection
A total of 2530 teneral males of Glossina morsitans morsitans from 8 to
96 hours post-eclosion were obtained from the UMR 177 IRD-CIRAD,
Campus International de Baillarguet, Montpellier, France. Tsetse flies were
infected, maintained and dissected as described previously (Rotureau et al.,
2011). Flies were starved for at least 48 hours before being dissected 15 to
55 days post-ingestion. Tissues were then directly observed under the
microscope or rapidly opened and flushed to resuspend parasites in culture
medium or phosphate-buffered saline for further experiments.
Cells were treated for immunofluorescence after paraformaldehyde or
methanol fixation as described previously (Rotureau et al., 2011). DNA
was stained with 4?,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). The mAb25
antibody (IgG2a) recognizes a protein found all along the axoneme (Pradel
et al., 2006), whereas the mAb22 (IgM) antibody detects an as yet
unidentified antigen found at the proximal zone of both the mature and the
pro-basal body (Bonhivers et al., 2008). The L8C4 antibody (IgG1) targets
an epitope of the PFR2 protein (Kohl et al., 1999). The YL1/2 (Kilmartin
et al., 1982) and KMX1 (Birkett et al., 1985) antibodies recognize
tyrosinated a-tubulin and b-tubulin, respectively. The anti-CRD (Zamze et
al., 1988) and the anti-BARP (Urwyler et al., 2007) antibodies were,
respectively, used to label the cross-reactive determinant of the glycosyl-
phosphatidylinositol anchors of the variant surface glycoproteins and the
BARP antigens after a 30-second methanol fixation protocol. Parasites
from dissected organs were immediately air-dried, fixed in a methanol bath
at –20°C for about 30 seconds and re-hydrated in phosphate-buffered saline
for 10 minutes before immunostaining. A calflagin antiserum that labels all
proteins of the calflagin family was used after a 30-second methanol
fixation (Giroud et al., 2009). The anti-SCC1 antibody targets the sister
chromatid cohesin component 1 found in the nucleus only during the S and
G2 phases of the cell cycle (Sharma et al., 2008). For each antibody,
immunofluorescence experiments were repeated on trypanosomes issued
from three to 13 different flies and from at least three distinct experimental
infections. Phalloidin coupled to Alexa Fluor 555 (Invitrogen) was used
according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to label actin fibers in
whole fly tissues after overnight paraformaldehyde fixation.
Measurements and analyses
Samples were observed either with: (1) a DMR microscope (Leica) and
images were captured with a CoolSnap HQ camera (Roper Scientific);
(2) with a DMI4000 microscope (Leica) and images were acquired with
a Retiga-SRV camera (Q-Imaging); or (3) with a digital D-Eclipse EZ-
C1si confocal system (Nikon) installed on an Eclipse TE2000-E inverted
microscope (Nikon). Pictures were analyzed and cell parameters were
measured using the IPLab Spectrum 3.9 software (Scanalytics & BD
Biosciences), the ImageJ 1.38? software (NIH) or the NIS-elements
software (Nikon). For clarity purposes, the brightness and contrast of
several pictures were adjusted after their analysis in accordance with
editorial policies. To compare fluorescence intensities, background
fluorescence was removed from all pictures and values were normalized
to the highest value of each batch of experiment (Figs 3, 4). Measured
parameters are: the total length of the cell (Total); the distance between
the center of the most anterior nucleus and the anterior end of the cell
(Nucleus 1/N1–Anterior); the distance between the center of the most
anterior nucleus and the posterior end of the cell (Nucleus
1/N1–Posterior); the distance between the center of the most anterior
nucleus and the kinetoplast associated with the old flagellum (Nucleus
1/N1–Old kinetoplast/K1); the distance between the kinetoplast
associated with the old flagellum and the posterior end of the cell (Old
kinetoplast/K1–Posterior); the length of the old flagellum measured on
phase-contrast pictures (Old flagellum); the length of the axoneme of the
old flagellum measured on pictures of mAb25 stained cells [Old
flagellum (mAb25)]; the distance between the center of the most anterior
nucleus and the kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum (Nucleus
1/N1–New kinetoplast/K2); the distance between the two kinetoplasts
(Old kinetoplast/K1–New kinetoplast/K2); the distance between the
kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum and the posterior end of
the cell (New kinetoplast/K2–Posterior); the length of the new flagellum
measured on phase-contrast pictures (New flagellum); the length of the
axoneme of the new flagellum measured on pictures of mAb25 stained
cells [New flagellum (mAb25)]; the distance between the center of the
two nuclei (Nucleus 1/N1–Nucleus 2/N2); the distance between the
center of the most posterior nucleus and the anterior end of the cell
(Nucleus 2 / N2–Anterior); the distance between the center of the most
posterior nucleus and the posterior end of the cell (Nucleus
2/N2–Posterior); and the distance between the center of the most
posterior nucleus and the kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum
(Nucleus 2/N2–New kinetoplast/K2). Statistical analyses were
performed in Excel or with the KaleidaGraph V.4.0 software (Synergy
Software). Normalized fluorescence intensity measurements (arbitrary
units), morphometric measurements (m) and cell counts were carried
out as previously described (Rotureau et al., 2011) and plotted as
mean±s.d. Two-tailed unpaired t-tests or one-way ANOVA tests,
with intergroup comparisons by Tukey ad-hoc post-tests with a0.05,
were performed, and significant results were indicated with
***P<0.0001, **P<0.001 and *P<0.01 (Fig. 1L, Fig. 2L, Fig. 3K, Fig.
4E,H, Fig. 5A).
Two modes of trypanosome proliferation in the
In order to unravel the development of trypanosomes in the tsetse
salivary glands, a total of 2530 teneral males of Glossina morsitans
morsitans were infected with the pleomorphic strain Trypanosoma
brucei brucei AnTat1.1 in 35 separate experiments. Out of the 594
flies dissected 15 to 55 days post-ingestion, 14.5% presented a
salivary gland infection. This rate of mature infections was
comparable with those previously observed (Peacock et al., 2007;
Peacock et al., 2011; Rotureau et al., 2011; Sharma et al., 2008;
Van Den Abbeele et al., 1999; Vassella et al., 2009). Epimastigotes
attached to the salivary glands were first examined directly in vivo
Development 139 (10)
(supplementary material Movie 1). Parasites expressing a cytosolic
GFP were also used to verify the attachment of dividing cells in
fixed salivary glands stained with phalloidin, a marker for the actin
network of epithelial cells (supplementary material Movie 2 and
Fig. S1). Details were obtained by monitoring live dividing
epimastigotes released from opened salivary glands (supplementary
material Movie 3), and by staining the flagellar axoneme (Fig. 1A-
C, Fig. 2A,B) and paraflagellar rod (PFR in supplementary material
Fig. S2), b-tubulin in the microtubule corset (Fig. 1F-G?, Fig. 2E-
F?) and tyrosinated a-tubulin (Fig. 1D,E, Fig. 2C,D) as a marker
of cytoskeleton elongation (Sherwin and Gull, 1989). The cell
cycle status was verified by labeling the DNA with 4?,6-diamidino-
2-phenylindole (DAPI staining in red with N for nucleus and K for
Fig. 1. The ‘epi-epi’ cell cycle produces two similar epimastigote daughter cells. (A-K)Trypanosomes from salivary glands were fixed in
methanol and stained with 4?,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DNA in red in A-K) and mAb25 (axoneme in green in A-C), YL1/2 (tyrosinated a-tubulin
in green in D,E), KMX1 (b-tubulin in green in F-G?) or anti-SCC1 (sister chromatid cohesin component 1 in green in H-K). 1K1N epimastigotes
(A,D,H,K), 2K1N ‘epi-epi’ cells (B,E-F?,I) and 2K2N ‘epi-epi’ cells (C,G-G?,J) were identified according to the number and relative positioning of their
kinetoplasts and nuclei. The positions of the old (white arrow) and new (white arrowhead) kinetoplasts are indicated, as well as the tip of the new
flagellum (red arrowhead) when present. Scale bars: 5m. (L)Mean values±s.d. (inm) of various morphometric parameters for 1K1N (black,
n38), 2K1N (gray, n42) and 2K2N (white, n31) trypanosomes from salivary glands. Measured parameters are the total cell length, the distance
between the nucleus 1 (N1) and the posterior end, the distance between the old kinetoplast (K1) and the posterior end, the distance between the
new kinetoplast (K2) and the posterior end, the distance between the nucleus 1 (N1) and the old kinetoplast (K1), the distance between the two
kinetoplasts (K1-K2) and the length of the new flagellum. ***P<0.0001, **P<0.001 or *P<0.01, intergroup comparisons from one-way ANOVA.
(M)Schematics of the ‘epi-epi’ cell cycle. Cytokinesis initiates at the tip of the new flagellum and follows the path of the flagellum (green
arrowhead). N1 and N2, nuclei 1 and 2; K1 and K2, kinetoplasts associated with the old and new flagella, respectively.
kinetoplast) and the cohesin sub-unit SCC1 (Fig. 1H-K, Fig. 2G-
K), found exclusively in the nucleus during S and G2 phases but
not during mitosis (Sharma et al., 2008).
In salivary gland epimastigotes, we observed that cell
proliferation starts with the duplication of the basal
bodies/kinetoplast complex and the assembly of the new flagellum
(Fig. 1B, Fig. 2A; supplementary material Fig. S2B,E). However,
the subsequent migration of the kinetoplast associated with the new
flagellum (K2) shows two different patterns: it occurs towards the
anterior end of the cell in the first case (Fig. 1B,L; supplementary
material Fig. S2B) and towards the posterior end of the cell, on the
other side of the nucleus, in the second case (Fig. 2A,L;
supplementary material Fig. S2E). These two types of kinetoplast
positioning are still observed after nuclear mitosis in dividing cells
with two kinetoplasts and two nuclei (2K2N cells in Fig. 1C,G-
G?,J, Fig. 2F-F?,I; supplementary material Fig. S2C,F). For clarity,
we have chosen to describe these two profiles separately (Figs 1,
In the first case, the posterior end of the epimastigote cell
elongates, as shown by the incorporation of tyrosinated tubulin
(Fig. 1D). The new flagellum elongates to reach ~6 m (Fig. 1L)
with its tip attached to the old flagellum in 79% of the cells with
two kinetoplasts and one nucleus (n42). The distance between the
two kinetoplasts (K1-K2), both anterior to the nucleus, increases
concomitant to the posterior end elongation (Fig. 1L). As shown
by the signal of the cohesin marker in 2K1N cells (Fig. 1I), the
nucleus completes mitosis after kinetoplast duplication, resulting
in a cell with two kinetoplasts and two nuclei (2K2N in Fig. 1C,G-
G?,J; supplementary material Fig. S2C). The new flagellum
continues its growth to reach ~10 m (Fig. 1L), still being attached
to the old flagellum by its tip in 65% of the 2K2N cells (n31).
After mitosis, nuclei segregate extensively in such a way that, prior
to cell division, the most anterior nucleus (N1) is positioned
between the two kinetoplasts (Fig. 1C,G-G?,J; supplementary
material Fig. S2C), resulting in an organizational scheme along the
antero-posterior axis summarized as ‘K1-N1-K2-N2’ (Fig. 1M).
This profile can be compared with the procyclic cell cycle
occurring in the midgut, except that the kinetoplasts are found in
an anterior position relative to the nuclei. Cytokinesis then initiates
close to the tip of the new flagellum after disconnection from the
old one (Fig. 1G?; supplementary material Fig. S2C), producing
two equivalent daughter cells with an epimastigote configuration
(Fig. 1M). Hence, the name ‘epi-epi’ division is proposed for this
mode of cell proliferation.
Surprisingly, we also detected numerous individuals that did not
match the ‘epi-epi’ configuration: these trypanosomes possess two
kinetoplasts, two flagella and one or two nuclei, but the position of
the new basal body is posterior to the nucleus (Fig. 2A,C,E-E?,H;
supplementary material Fig. S2E). Incorporation of tyrosinated
tubulin mostly takes place at the posterior end (Fig. 2C), whereas
the new flagellum elongates to reach ~10 m before mitosis and
~13 m before the end of cell division (Fig. 2L). In contrast to the
‘epi-epi’ division, the tip of the new flagellum is frequently
detached from the old flagellum: only 49% (n37) and 36% (n22)
of the cells with one and two nuclei, respectively, showed an
apparent connection between the tip of the new flagellum and the
side of the old one (Fig. 2F-F?). The distribution of the data
presented in supplementary material Table S2 provides information
about the numerous intermediate situations reflecting the
subcellular events occurring during this division. The 57
asymmetrically dividing cells in which the distances between the
kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum (K2) and the
Infective trypanosome production
posterior end of the cell (K2-Posterior) have been measured were
observed at different steps of the division process (compare range
and standard deviation of these two parameters). During the 2K1N
to 2K2N transition, the distance between the new kinetoplast (K2)
and the posterior end decreases from 5 m to 3.8 m, and the
distance between the anterior nucleus (N1) and the new kinetoplast
(K2) (N1-K2) significantly increases from 2 m to 3.8 m; the
distance between the anterior nucleus (N1) and the posterior end
(N1-Posterior), however, remains broadly constant at 7-8 m, as
does the total cell length at 20 m (supplementary material Table
S2; Fig. 1L, Fig. 2L). Thus, it appears that one major event of this
division is the early migration of the kinetoplast associated with the
new flagellum to the posterior side of the nucleus. After this
repositioning of the kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum,
mitosis occurs lateral to the antero-posterior axis and the two nuclei
remain relatively close to each other (Fig. 2F-F?,I, supplementary
material Fig. S2F), resulting in a novel organizational scheme along
the antero-posterior axis of the cell that is ‘K1-N1-N2-K2’ (Fig.
2M). Cytokinesis begins along the axis of the new flagellum before
the completion of mitosis (Fig. 2A,F-F?). At this stage, the total cell
length, the inter-kinetoplast distance and the position of each
kinetoplast relative to the posterior and the anterior end of the cell
are comparable with the parameters measured for the ‘epi-epi’
mode of proliferation (supplementary material Table S2; Fig. 1L,
Fig. 2L). These morphometric data indicate that mitosis is delayed
in these cells compared with ‘epi-epi’ dividing parasites. This
asymmetric division results in two distinct daughter cells: the one
inheriting the old flagellum displays the epimastigote configuration
and the one inheriting the new flagellum adopts the trypomastigote
configuration (Fig. 2M). Hence, the term ‘epi-trypo’ division is
Molecular markers for differentiation
The trypomastigote daughter cell resulting from the asymmetric
division could be the precursor of the infective metacyclic form.
Such an intermediate form has been called pre-metacyclic and
shown to remain attached to the epithelium (Steiger, 1973; Tetley
et al., 1987; Tetley and Vickerman, 1985). The maturation of the
pre-metacyclic into the metacyclic form involves morphological
changes such as rounding-up of the posterior end, elongation of the
flagellum and repositioning of the kinetoplast to the far posterior
end (Fig. 2J,K, Fig. 3D,E,I,J, Fig. 4C,D; supplementary material
S2G,H). It is noteworthy that the posterior migration of the
kinetoplast associated with the new flagellum initiated during the
asymmetric ‘epi-trypo’ division seems to go further on during the
maturation of the 1K1N trypomastigote daughter cell with a
broadly linear distribution (R20.64) of the distance between the
kinetoplast and the posterior end in the range of 6.9 to 0.1 m
(Kinetoplast-Posterior in supplementary material Table S2).
To assess whether the trypomastigote daughter cell issued from
the ‘epi-trypo’ division is the precursor of the infective metacyclic
form, we looked for molecular markers expressed in the pre-
metacyclic and metacyclic stages that could appear as early as
during the asymmetric ‘epi-trypo’ division. The transition from the
epimastigote to the trypomastigote metacyclic form is accompanied
by the disappearance of the epimastigote-specific surface antigen
BARP (Urwyler et al., 2007) and the acquisition of a variant
surface glycoprotein coat (Tetley et al., 1987; Tetley and
Vickerman, 1985). Immunofluorescence analyses with an anti-
BARP antiserum revealed that attached epimastigotes (Fig. 3A) as
well as ‘epi-epi’ dividing cells (Fig. 3B) were strongly positive for
BARP, whereas metacyclic parasites turned out to be negative, as
expected (Fig. 3E). A decrease in the abundance of the BARP
antigen was observed in pre-metacyclic cells (Fig. 3D) but not in
asymmetrically dividing ‘epi-trypo’ cells (Fig. 3C).
Monitoring variant surface glycoproteins is more difficult as only
a single type of variant surface glycoproteins is expressed at a time,
but it can be the product of any single gene from the metacyclic
repertoire, and the encoded proteins are extremely divergent
(Berriman et al., 2005). However, the variant surface glycoproteins
share a conserved region called the cross-reacting determinant
(CRD) that is implicated in glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchoring
to the membrane. This cross-reacting determinant is buried in the
variant surface glycoprotein molecules and only accessible to
Development 139 (10)
antibodies upon phospholipase treatment (Cardoso de Almeida and
Turner, 1983; Grab et al., 1984; Zamze et al., 1988). We reasoned
that this domain of the glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchor of the
variant surface glycoprotein could be exposed upon methanol
fixation, and this exposure would offer the possibility of probing for
the presence of a variant surface glycoprotein coat by
immunofluorescence regardless of the type expressed. After a 30-
second fixation in methanol, the anti-CRD polyclonal antibody was
incubated with a mixture of cells containing 50% of cultured
bloodstream and 50% of cultured procyclic trypanosomes. A strong
fluorescent signal at the surface of bloodstream cells was observed,
whereas procyclic parasites were all negative, proving the efficacy
Fig. 2. The ‘epi-trypo’ cell cycle results in an asymmetric division that produces one epimastigote and one trypomastigote cell.
(A-K)Trypanosomes from salivary glands were fixed in methanol and stained with 4?,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DNA in red in A-K) and mAb25
(axoneme in green in A,B), YL1/2 (tyrosinated a-tubulin in green in C,D), KMX1 (b-tubulin in green in E,F) or anti-SCC1 (sister chromatid cohesin
component 1 in green in G-K). 1K1N epimastigotes (G), 2K1N ‘epi-trypo’ cells (A,C,E,E?,H), 2K2N ‘epi-trypo’ cells (F,F?,I), pre-metacyclic cells (B,D,J)
and metacyclic trypomastigotes (K) were identified according to the number and relative positioning of their kinetoplasts and nuclei. The positions
of the old (white arrow) and new (white arrowhead) kinetoplasts are indicated, as well as the tip of the new flagellum (red arrowhead) when
present. Scale bars: 5m. (L)Mean values±s.d. (inm) of various morphometric parameters for 1K1N (black, n38), 2K1N (gray, n37) and 2K2N
(white, n22) trypanosomes from salivary glands. Measured parameters are the total cell length, the distance between the nucleus 1 (N1) and the
posterior end, the distance between the old kinetoplast (K1) and the posterior end, the distance between the new kinetoplast (K2) and the
posterior end, the distance between the nucleus 1 (N1) and the old kinetoplast (K1), the distance between the two kinetoplasts (K1-K2) and the
length of the new flagellum. ***P<0.0001 or *P<0.01, intergroup comparisons from one-way ANOVA. (M)Schematics of the ‘epi-trypo’ cell cycle.
Cytokinesis initiates at the tip of the new flagellum and follows the path of the flagellum (green arrowhead). N1 and N2, nuclei 1 and 2; K1 and
K2, kinetoplasts associated with the old and new flagella, respectively.
of the assay (supplementary material Fig. S3A). The anti-CRD
antibody was then used under the same conditions to label parasites
issued from the salivary glands (Fig. 3F-K; supplementary material
Fig. S3B). As expected, the epimastigote cells appeared negative
(Fig. 3F,K; supplementary material Fig. S3B), whereas the
metacyclic parasites were positive (Fig. 3J,K; supplementary
material Fig. S3B) with a bright staining at their surface. However,
neither the ‘epi-epi’ (Fig. 3G,K) nor the ‘epi-trypo’ dividing cells
(Fig. 3H,K) were found to be positive. In total, the transition between
the BARP antigen and the variant surface glycoprotein coats
progressively occurs only in premetacyclic cells (Fig. 3I,K), in a
comparable way to the bloodstream variant surface glycoprotein
replacement by the procyclin coat during the early differentiation in
the midgut of the tsetse fly (Roditi et al., 1989).
The age of the centrosome plays a key role in the fate of the
progeny during asymmetric divisions in metazoans (Knoblich, 2010).
In trypanosomes, there are no centrosomes as such, but a basal body
Infective trypanosome production
that exhibits an equivalent structure and that is always associated
with the flagellum. We reasoned that the two flagella of the ‘epi-
trypo’ dividing cells might contain distinct components (Rotureau et
al., 2009). To identify candidate markers, we browsed the lists of
identified flagellum and basal body proteins (Buisson and Bastin,
2010; Ralston et al., 2009) to search for those likely to display a
differential expression between insect and mammalian stages. One
such candidate was the calflagin protein family. Calflagins are
flagellar calcium-binding proteins known to be present in parasites
at the procyclic stage but whose abundance is much higher in
bloodstream trypanosomes (Emmer et al., 2010). We first showed
that calflagins are also abundant in pre-metacyclic (Fig. 4C,E) and
metacyclic (Fig. 4D,E) forms but not in epimastigote parasites (Fig.
4A,E). Strikingly, whereas calflagins are present in low and
equivalent amounts in both flagella of the ‘epi-epi’ dividing cells
(Fig. 4F-F?,H), they are enriched in the new flagellum of the ‘epi-
trypo’ dividing cells (Fig. 4G,H), demonstrating their commitment
to differentiation. This also suggests that the flagellum is becoming
pre-adapted for the infection in the mammalian host. We propose that
this asymmetric ‘epi-trypo’ division represents the first step of
differentiation of the epimastigote towards the metacyclic stage.
Dynamics of trypanosome infection in the
The existence of two alternative cell cycles in parasites found in the
salivary glands raises the question of their repartition in time and
space during an infection. In the present study, salivary gland
infections were observed as soon as 14 days after the infective meal.
In accordance with recent observations (Oberle et al., 2010; Peacock
et al., 2007), the invasion (14 to 21 days after the infective meal) was
characterized by a small number of epimastigote parasites sparsely
attached in one or both glands (supplementary material Movie 1, part
1; Fig. 5B). After 21 to 28 days, the density of parasites in an
infected gland could be so high that the lumen appeared obstructed
(supplementary material Movie 1, part 2; Fig. 5C). Both in vivo
examination of live parasites in intact or opened salivary glands
(supplementary material Movie 1, part 3) and confocal observations
of parasites in fixed salivary glands stained with phalloidin
(supplementary material Movie 2, Fig. S1) confirmed the presence
of dividing cells with the ‘epi-epi’ and ‘epi-trypo’ profiles attached
to the epithelium. The first freely swimming metacyclic cells were
observed from day 18 post-ingestion until the end of the experiments
(day 55). To quantify the proportions of each cell type, all the
parasites obtained from the salivary glands of two groups of flies
dissected at early (<21 days) or late (>28 days) stages of infection
(Fig. 5A) were characterized by DAPI staining. The efficiency of the
parasite extraction from the glands was first assessed with GFP-
expressing trypanosomes. In total, 1K1N cells (epimastigotes and
trypomastigotes) were found to account for 57% (early infection) and
73 % (late infection) of the cells (Fig. 5A). In early infections, there
was a predominance of parasites in the ‘epi-epi’ configuration (2K1N
and 2K2N) that represented 75% of all the dividing cells. By sharp
contrast, the balance was tipped over at later stages of infection with
a predominance (62%) of the ‘epi-trypo’ profile.
Taken together, these results demonstrate the existence of two
alternative proliferation patterns occurring simultaneously in the
salivary glands of the tsetse fly (Fig. 6; supplementary material Table
S1). At the early stage of infection, the ‘epi-epi’ cell division is
predominant, presumably to allow rapid amplification and
establishment of the infection by colonization of the salivary glands.
Fig. 3. Surface coat replacement in pre-metacyclic parasites.
(A-J)Trypanosomes from salivary glands were fixed in methanol for 30
seconds and stained with 4?,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DNA in red in
A-J) and anti-BARP (BARP antigen coat in green in A-E) or anti-CRD
(cross-reactive determinant of the variant surface glycoprotein glycosyl-
phosphatidylinositol anchor in green in F-J). Epimastigotes (A,F), ‘epi-
epi’ cells (B,G), ‘epi-trypo’ cells (C,H), pre-metacyclic cells (D,I) and
metacyclic trypomastigotes (E,J) were identified according to the
number and relative positioning of their kinetoplasts and nuclei. The
positions of the old (white arrow) and new (white arrowhead)
kinetoplasts are indicated. Scale bars: 5m. (K)Mean normalized
fluorescence intensity±s.d. (in arbitrary units) obtained by staining the
cross-reactive determinant (CRD) of the variant surface glycoprotein
glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchor of the indicated trypanosome
stages from salivary glands. n is given inside columns; *P<0.001, two-
tailed unpaired Student’s t-test when compared with all other groups.
This is taking place in a ‘mosaic’ pattern as reported previously
(Peacock et al., 2007), with small colonies of parasites spreading at
different locations in the epithelium that would ultimately grow to
join each other (supplementary material Movie 1, Fig. S1A; Fig.
5B,C). Some ‘epi-trypo’ asymmetric divisions are also detected,
leading to early production of metacyclic parasites. The induction of
Development 139 (10)
epi-trypo differentiation could be triggered by physical contact
between attached epimastigotes. Alternatively, the emergence of ‘epi-
trypo’ cells could be associated with the locally high density of
attached parasites. Indeed, the high concentration of cells on a
restricted surface could lead to the local production of trypanosome
molecules that, in turn, would result in a local quorum-sensing-like
phenomenon similar to what has been proposed for the production
of stumpy cells during bloodstream infection (Vassella et al., 1997).
In contrast to epimastigotes that are attached to the epithelium,
metacyclic parasites are released in the saliva. During each
bloodmeal, most of them are ejected with the saliva. This drastic
change in the environment could also activate the entry of some
attached epimastigotes in the ‘epi-trypo’ cycle to ensure the rapid
production of a new pool of infective cells.
In both types of cell division, the tip of the new flagellum beats
freely when cells are close to cytokinesis. This movement could
be necessary to allow cell separation, as observed during division
of procyclic trypanosomes, where inhibition of motility prevents
the last step of cytokinesis in vitro. Interestingly, this phenomenon
can be relieved upon mechanical shaking of the culture (Branche
et al., 2006; Ralston et al., 2006). As we did not observe any living
dividing cells attached with their two flagella, the future daughter
Fig. 4. Calflagins as early molecular markers for differentiation.
(A-D,F,G) Trypanosomes from salivary glands were fixed in methanol for
30 seconds and stained with 4?,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DNA in red)
and anti-calflagins (calflagins in green). Epimastigotes (A), ‘epi-epi’ cells
(F,F?), ‘epi-trypo’ cells (B,G,G?), pre-metacyclic cells (C) and metacyclic
trypomastigotes (D) were identified according to the number and relative
positioning of their kinetoplasts and nuclei. The positions of the old
(white arrow) and new (white arrowhead) kinetoplasts are indicated, as
well as the tip of the new flagellum (red arrowhead) when present. Scale
bars: 5m. (E)Mean normalized flagellum fluorescence intensity±s.d. (in
arbitrary units) obtained upon staining calflagins in the indicated
trypanosome stages from salivary glands. n is given inside columns;
*P<0.001, two-tailed unpaired Student’s t-test, when compared with all
other groups. (H)Comparison of the ratios between calflagin staining
intensities measured in the new flagellum (F2) and the old flagellum (F1)
of the same dividing cell according to the division type. Ratios±s.d. of the
mean and maximum values of normalized fluorescence measured along
each entire flagellum. P from two-tailed unpaired Student’s t-test.
Fig. 5. Parasite population dynamics during the course of the
salivary gland infection. (A)Parasite populations in the salivary
glands according to the time of infection. Mean percentages±s.d. of
cells in each stage out of the total number of parasites in the salivary
glands from flies dissected less than 21 days (early infection in gray,
n1070 cells from six flies) or more than 28 days (late infection in
black, n2156 cells from six flies) identified by DNA staining with 4?,6-
diamidino-2-phenylindole. ‘Epi-epi’ and ‘epi-trypo’ groups include
2K1N and 2K2N cells. ‘Others’ includes cells with nKnN (with n>2),
zoids (1K0N) and few dividing trypomastigotes. **P<0.01, *P<0.05,
two-tailed unpaired Student’s t-test. (B)Still image from supplementary
material Movie 1 (part 1) showing the early infection (18 days after
ingestion) of a salivary gland by epimastigote parasites attached to the
epithelium (black arrows). Scale bar: 20m. (C)Still image from
supplementary material Movie 1 (part 2) showing the presence of
numerous parasites in the lumen of a salivary gland at a later step of
infection (21 days after ingestion). Scale bar: 10m.
cell is likely to be released in the lumen and to attach rapidly to
the epithelium again, either to initiate a novel round of cell
division or to allow the completion of the differentiation into the
metacyclic form. In the case of the ‘epi-trypo’ division, the fate of
the epimastigote progeny remains to be determined. The resulting
attached epimastigote could re-iterate that process; hence,
behaving like a ‘stem cell’ that ensures the maintenance of the
attached population at the surface of the epithelium and the
continuous production of pre-metacyclic cells. Alternatively, this
epimastigote could die after the asymmetric division, a situation
that has been proposed to occur for the long epimastigote cell
resulting from another asymmetric division occurring in the
proventriculus and foregut earlier in the parasite cycle (Sharma et
al., 2009; Van Den Abbeele et al., 1999). In that case, the coupling
of the asymmetric division to the ‘epi-epi’ cycle would be essential
to maintain the infection in the salivary glands. It is also
noteworthy that some epimastigotes were recently observed to
achieve the first meiotic division (<20% with a T. b. brucei J10
background) (Peacock et al., 2011). This observation is compatible
with the model proposed here, as these parasites could correspond
to a part of the ‘epi-epi’ dividing cell population. However, the
frequency of meiotic events in our conditions (T. b. brucei
AnTat1.1 in G. m. morsitans from Zimbabwe) remains
undetermined. The second step of the meiotic program and the
subsequent cell fusion have now to be elucidated and compared
between African trypanosome species and strains.
Our data do not definitely exclude the possibility of a direct
differentiation of an attached epimastigote into a pre-metacyclic
trypomastigote as suggested by Vickerman (Vickerman, 1985).
Infective trypanosome production
Assessing the relative contributions of the two hypotheses in the
metacyclogenetic process appears to be technically challenging at
that time. First, live cell time-lapse imaging is technically not feasible
in vivo in the fly yet. Second, to our knowledge, conditions for the
culture of salivary gland parasites that reproduce trypanosome
differentiation have never been reported. Thus, the monitoring of the
kinetoplast movements in a single cell attached to the salivary gland
epithelium of a living tsetse fly or to an artificial substratum appears
difficult to obtain. However, it is noteworthy that no argument for a
direct differentiation has been found in the present study.
Metacyclic parasites are pre-adapted to life in the mammalian
host and possess the variant surface glycoprotein coat that is not
yet detected during the ‘epi-trypo’ division, at least by using the
anti-CRD indirect probe. The BARP antigen coat is replaced by the
variant surface glycoprotein coat after cell division, exactly as
observed for the loss of the variant surface glycoproteins and the
emergence of procyclin when bloodstream parasites differentiate
into procyclic cells (Roditi et al., 1989). By contrast, the flagellum
is assembled only once during the cell cycle, a process that takes
place before cytokinesis. The higher amounts of calflagins in the
new flagellum compared with the old flagellum of the ‘epi-trypo’
cell could constitute the first step of a pre-adaptation to life in the
mammalian host, where calflagins are highly abundant and
contribute to infectivity (Emmer et al., 2010). This reveals
preferential targeting of membrane proteins to this flagellum versus
the old one.
The progression of T. brucei infection in a tsetse fly is a slow and
complex process. Even in countries where the disease is endemic,
fewer than 0.1% of flies carry metacyclic parasites (Aksoy et al.,
2003; Brun et al., 2009). Our results reveal how the parasite has
evolved to compensate these low infection rates, by developing
cellular processes remarkably adapted to the high life span of tsetse
flies (1 to 9 months) (Aksoy et al., 2003). The balance between the
two patterns of cell cycle in parasites attached to tsetse salivary
glands (Fig. 6) would ensure continuous production of numerous
infective cells for long periods, allowing the efficient diffusion of
African trypanosomes over time and space. This strategy greatly
contrasts with those evolved by Plasmodium in Anopheles
mosquitoes or by Leishmania in sandflies, which are transmitted by
more abundant vectors with a much shorter life span (Aly et al.,
2009; Bates, 2007; Cohuet et al., 2010). Overall, the new mode of
asymmetric division discovered in the salivary glands explains the
continuous production of infective metacyclic parasites, turning the
tsetse flies into efficient and long-lasting vectors for African
We thank the ‘TRYPANOSOM’-UMR 177 IRD CIRAD team (Campus
International de Baillarguet, Montpellier, France) headed by G. Cuny for
generously providing tsetse flies, especially B. Tchicaya and J. Janelle. We are
grateful to J. Van Den Abbeele for providing the trypanosome cell line. We
acknowledge I. Roditi, W. Gibson, J. Bangs, D. Engman, D. Robinson, M.
Carrington and K. Gull for providing various antibodies and/or plasmids. We
thank G. Milon, L. Kohl, L. Vincensini, K. Vickerman, F. Cox, L. Tetley, A.
Scherf, G. Spaeth, F. Bringaud and D. Robinson for critical reading of the
This work was funded by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(CNRS), the Institut Pasteur and by an L’Agence nationale de la recherche –
Maladies infectieuses et leur environnement (ANR-MIE) grant [ANR-08-MIE-
027]. B.R. was funded by a Roux post-doctoral fellowship, I.S. by a Fonds
National de la Recherche (FNR) fellowship and J.B. by a Bourse du Ministère de
l’Enseignement et de la Recherche, Ecole Doctorale interdisciplinaire du Vivant
Fig. 6. Contribution of the two modes of proliferation in the
balance between colonization and transmission. Schematics of the
proposed parasite development in the salivary glands. Stages inside the
box are found attached to the salivary gland epithelium. Basal bodies in
pink, calflagins in green and variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat in
1820 RESEARCH ARTICLE Download full-text
Development 139 (10)
Competing interests statement
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
B.R. carried out all the experiments and wrote the manuscript. I.S. participated
in fly maintenance, in the immunofluorescence analysis with the anti-BARP
and prepared Movie 3. J.B. drew the schematics. I.S. and P.B. discussed the
results and commented on the manuscript.
Supplementary material available online at
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