African trypanosomes express a family of dually acylated, EF-hand calcium-binding proteins called the calflagins. These proteins associate with lipid raft microdomains in the flagellar membrane, where they putatively function as calcium signaling proteins. Here we show that these proteins bind calcium with high affinity and that their expression is regulated during the life cycle stage of the parasite, with protein levels approximately 10-fold higher in the mammalian bloodstream form than in the insect vector procyclic stage. We also demonstrate a role for the calflagins in mammalian infection, as inhibition of the entire calflagin family by RNA interference dramatically increased host survival and attenuated parasitemia in a mouse model of sleeping sickness. In contrast to infection with parental wild-type parasites, which demonstrated an unremitting parasitemia and death within 6 to 10 days, infection with calflagin-depleted parasites demonstrated prolonged survival associated with a sudden decrease in parasitemia at approximately 8 days postinfection. Subsequent relapsing and remitting waves of parasitemia thereafter were associated with alternate expression of the variant surface glycoprotein, suggesting that initial clearance was antigen specific. Interestingly, despite the notable in vivo phenotype and flagellar localization of the calflagins, in vitro analysis of the calflagin-deficient parasites demonstrated normal proliferation, flagellar motility, and morphology. Further analysis of the kinetics of surface antibody clearance also did not demonstrate a deficit in the calflagin-deficient parasites; thus, the molecular basis for the altered course of infection is independent of an effect on parasite cell cycle progression, motility, or degradation of surface-bound antibodies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology