Trypanosomes are protozoan parasites that cause major diseases in humans and other animals. Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi are the etiologic agents of African and American Trypanosomiasis, respectively. In spite of large amounts of information regarding various aspects of their biology, including the essentially complete sequences of their genomes, studies directed towards an understanding of mechanisms related to DNA metabolism have been very limited. Recent reports, however, describing genes involved with DNA recombination and repair in T. brucei and T. cruzi, indicated the importance of these processes in the generation of genetic variability, which is crucial to the success of these parasites. Here, we review these data and discuss how the DNA repair and recombination machineries may contribute to strikingly different strategies evolved by the two Trypanosomes to create genetic variability that is needed for survival in their hosts. In T. brucei, two genetic components are critical to the success of antigenic variation, a strategy that allows the parasite to evade the host immune system by periodically changing the expression of a group of variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs). One component is a mechanism that provides for the exclusive expression of a single VSG at any one time, and the second is a large repository of antigenically distinct VSGs. Work from various groups showing the importance of recombination reactions in T. brucei, primarily to move a silent VSG into an active VSG expression site, is discussed. T. cruzi does not use the strategy of antigenic variation for host immune evasion but counts on the extreme heterogeneity of their population for parasite adaptation to different hosts. We discuss recent evidence indicating the existence of major differences in the levels of genomic heterogeneity among T. cruzi strains, and suggest that metabolic changes in the mismatch repair pathway could be an important source of antigenic diversity found within the T. cruzi population.
- DNA repair
- Genetic variability