Antigens of African Trypanosomes

  • M. J. Turner
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 120)


The African trypanosomes present their hosts with the best characterised antigens in parasitology — the variant surface glycoproteins, or VSGs. The structure of the genes encoding VSGs and the mechanism by which the expression of these genes is regulated have been studied intensively (reviewed in Steinert and Pays 1985). Research in this area is at the forefront of molecular biology, and the most modern techniques of recombinant DNA analyses have been applied. A number of the steps in VSG biosynthesis have been well characterised (reviewed in Turner et al. 1985) and the VSGs have been purified and studied extensively (reviewed in Cross 1984; Turner 1984a). The sequence of several of the proteins has been determined, one directly, and the remainder indirectly by DNA sequencing (reviewed in Cross 1984; Turner 1984a). These data have been used as the basis for calculations of the secondary structure potential, in an attempt to predict VSG structure (Lalor et al. 1984). Recently, the three-dimensional structure of part of a VSG molecule has been solved to 6 Å resolution (Freymann et al. 1984), and a structure at higher resolution is expected shortly. In spite of these attentions, new methods of controlling trypanosomiasis, both in man and his domestic animals, still seem remote. Trypanosomiasis (known as sleeping sickness in man and nagana in cattle) is endemic throughout central Africa. It is estimated that 35 million people and 25 million cattle are exposed to the risk of infection in an area about the size of the continental United States, posing a huge obstacle to the economic development of Africa (WHO 1979).


Antigenic Variation Normal Human Serum Trypanosoma Brucei Variant Surface Glycoprotein African Trypanosome 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Turner
    • 1
  1. 1.Research LaboratoriesMerck Sharp & DohmeRahwayUSA

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