Identification and characterisation of novel pathogenic factors of Trypanosoma congolense.
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Trypanosoma congolense is a major causative agent of the bovine disease trypanosomosis which has a considerable economic impact on sub-Saharan Africa. Current control methods for trypanosomosis are unsatisfactory and vaccine development has been hampered by antigenic variation. An anti-disease vaccine is based on the idea that disease is caused by the pathogenic factors released by the parasite, rather than by the parasite itself. Therefore, if these pathogenic factors could be neutralised by antibodies produced by vaccination, the disease could be circumvented. The method used here for identification of novel pathogenic factors is based on the concept that trypanotolerant cattle are able to mitigate the disease by generating a specific immune response against a few key antigens (pathogenic factors). Two immuno-affinity columns were therefore prepared: one containing IgG from noninfected sera and a second column containing IgG from trypanotolerant N’Dama cattle serially infected with T. congolense. The differential binding of antigens to the two columns allowed identification of antigens specifically recognised by the immune system of a trypanotolerant animal, i.e. potential pathogenic factors. The most promising antigens identified included several variant cathepsin L-like cysteine peptidases (CPs) and the Family M1 Clan MA aminopeptidases (APs). For the CPs, a study of the genetic organisation was conducted in order to further understand the variability present in this gene family. To this end, two different mini-libraries of cathepsin L-like genes were prepared: one in which genes as different as possible from congopain (the major CP of T. congolense) were selected, and a second which contained all possible genes present in the congopain array. Analysis of the sequences obtained in these two mini-libraries showed that there was significant variability of the genes within the congopain array. Two variants of CPs, chosen for differences in their catalytic triads, were cloned for expression. The recombinantly expressed CP variants differed in substrate preferences from one another and from C2 (the recombinant truncated form of congopain), and surprisingly, all enzymes were active at physiological pH. The two APs were cloned and expressed as insoluble inclusion bodies in an E. coli system, and subsequently refolded. The refolded APs showed a substrate preference for H-Ala-AMC, an optimum pH of 8.0, localisation to the cytoplasm and inhibition by puromycin. The two APs were not developmentally regulated and present in procyclic, metacyclic and bloodstream form parasites. Down-regulation of both APs by RNAi resulted in a slightly reduced growth rate in procyclic parasites in vitro. Immunisation of BALB/c mice with the APs did not provide protection when challenged with T. congolense. For an anti-disease vaccine to be protective, it would possibly have to include all pathogenic factors, including the two APs and at least one CP described in the present study.