Letter | Published:

Antigenic heterogeneity of metacyclic forms of Trypanosoma brucei

Abstract

AFRICAN trypanosomiasis is a relapsing disease chiefly affecting man and his domestic stock. The infected mammal mounts a protective, trypanolytic immune response to the trypanosome's surface antigen, but a few parasites have already undergone antigenic variation by that time1. Parasitaemic remissions and recrudescences occur as a seemingly inexhaustible series of surface variable antigen types (VATs) are expressed randomly by the flagellate2,3. Reversion of the trypanosome population to a ‘basic’ antigen type at the end of its cyclical development in ithe tsetse fly's salivary glands has been suggested4–6. Prospects of vaccination, and of early serodiagnosis of trypanosomiasis, would be greatly improved by use of such a basic VAT. Specific immunofluorescence and immune lysis tests now make possible the identification of the VAT of individual trypanosomes1. We have applied these techniques to metacyclic trypanosomes. Our results show that VAT heterogeneity is present in the metacyclic population.

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