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Recombinant expression of, and characterisation of antibodies against variable surface glycoproteins : LiTat 1.3 and LiTat 1.5 of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense.

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Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness is one of the many life threatening tropical diseases posing a serious risk to livelihoods in Africa. The disease is restricted to the rural poor across sub–Saharan Africa, where tsetse flies that transmit the disease, are endemic. Sleeping sickness is known to be caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Trypanosoma brucei, with the two sub-species: T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense, responsible for causing infection in humans. The disease develops in two stages, firstly, the infection is found in the blood and secondly, when the parasites cross the blood-brain barrier entering the nervous system. To date, no vaccines have been developed, however, there is a range of drugs and treatments available which depend on the type of infection (T. b. gambiense or T. b. rhodesiense) as well as disease stage. The trypanosome parasites have a two-host life cycle i.e. in the mammalian host as well as the tsetse fly vector. Throughout the cycle, the parasite undergoes changes, one of them being the acquisition of a variable surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat prior to entry into the human host bloodstream. Once in the host, the infection progresses and through a phenomenon known as antigenic variation, the parasite expresses a different VSG coat periodically, enabling the parasites to constantly evade the host’s immune response, facilitating their survival. The VSG genes coding for the proteins are activated by an intricate process involving the encoding of a gene which is kept silent, until activated in one of several expression sites. Despite the constant switching of VSG surface coats, there are VSG forms that are predominantly expressed in T. b. gambiense namely VSGs LiTat 1.3, LiTat 1.5 and LiTat 1.6 which are used in diagnostic tests, as antigens to detect antibodies in infected sera of HAT patients. The acquisition of these VSG antigens is, however, of high risk to staff handling the parasites, and so the first part of the study was aimed at cloning, recombinantly expressing and purifying the two VSGs known to be recognised by all gambiense HAT patients: LiTat 1.3 and LiTat 1.5, for possible use as alternative antigens in diagnostic tests. The genes encoding both VSGs, LiTat 1.3 and LiTat 1.5, were first amplified from either genomic or complementary DNA (gDNA or cDNA), cloned into a pTZ57R/T-vector and sub-cloned into pGEX or pET expression vectors prior to recombinant expression in E. coli BL21 DE3 and purification by Ni-affinity chromatography. Amplification and subsequent cloning yielded the expected 1.4 kb and 1.5 kb for the LiTat 1.3 and LiTat 1.5 genes respectively. Recombinant expression in E. coli was only successful with the constructs cloned from cDNA, i.e. the pGEX4T-1-cLiTat 1.3 and pET-28a-cLiTat 1.3 clones. Purification of the 63 kDa cLiTat 1.3His protein following solubilising and refolding did not yield pure protein and there were also signs of protein degradation. For comparison, expression was also carried out in P. pastoris and similar to the bacterial system, expression was only successful with the LiTat 1.3-SUMO construct yielding a 62.7 kDa protein. Purification of LiTat 1.3SUMO also surpassed that of cLiTat 1.3His with no degradation. The diagnostic tests based on VSGs LiTat 1.3 and LiTat 1.5 as antigens operate by binding with antibodies in infected sera, to confirm infection. These antibody detection tests have their limitations, hence an alternative would be antigen detection tests, which use antibodies to detect the respective antigens in infected sera. The second part of the study therefore involved antibody production, where chickens were immunised with the native VSGs LiTat 1.3, LiTat 1.5 as well as recombinant RhoTat 1.2 (a VSG expressed in T. evansi). Antibody production was analysed by ELISA and characterised by western blotting, prior to immunolabelling of T. b. brucei Lister 427 parasites. The chicken IgY showed a response to the immunogens, and were able to detect their respective proteins in the western blot. Interestingly, the anti-nLiTat 1.3, anti-nLiTat 1.5 and anti-rRhoTat 1.2 antibodies were able to detect their respective VSGs on the T. b. brucei trypanosome parasites in the immunofluorescence assay, thus demonstrating cross reactivity. As the antibodies showed specificity, they could potentially detect antigens in infected sera of HAT patients in an antigen detection based test.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2013.


African trypanosomiasis., Trypanosoma brucei., Immunoglobulins., Glycoproteins., Theses--Biochemistry.