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Acta Trop. 2006 Jan;97(1):94-101. Epub 2005 Oct 4.

New fluorescence markers to distinguish co-infecting Trypanosoma brucei strains in experimental multiple infections.

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  • 1Yale University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 165 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA. oliver.balmer@yale.edu


Multiple-genotype infections are increasingly recognized as important factors in disease evolution, parasite transmission dynamics, and the evolution of drug resistance. However, the distinction of co-infecting parasite genotypes and the tracking of their dynamics have been difficult with traditional methods based on various genotyping techniques, leaving most questions unaddressed. Here we report new fluorescence markers of various colours that are inserted into the genome of Trypanosoma brucei to phenotypically label live parasites of all life cycle stages. If different parasite strains are labelled with different colours they can be easily distinguished from each other in experimental studies. A total of 10 T. brucei strains were successfully transfected with different fluorescence markers and were monitored in culture, tsetse flies and mice, to demonstrate stability of marker expression. The use of fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) allowed rapid and accurate identification of parasite strains labelled with different markers. Cell counts by FACS were virtually identical to counts by traditional microscopy (n=75, Spearman's rho: 0.91, p<0.0001) but were considerably faster and had a significantly lower sampling error (66% lower, d.f.=73, t=-17.1, p<0.0001). Co-infecting strains transfected with fluorescence genes of different colour were easily distinguished by eye and their relative and absolute densities were reliably counted by FACS in experimental multiple infections in mice. Since the FACS can simultaneously determine the population sizes of differently labelled T. brucei strains or subspecies it allows detailed and efficient tracking of multiple-genotype infections within a single host or vector individual, enabling more powerful studies on parasite dynamics. In addition, it also provides a simple way to separate genotypes after experimental mixed infections, to measure responses of the single strains to an applied treatment, thus eliminating the need for laborious cloning steps. The markers presented broaden the spectrum of tools available for experimental studies on multiple-genotype infections. They are fundamentally different from isoenzyme analysis and other genotyping approaches in that they allow the distinction of parasite genotypes based on an easily recognizable phenotypic trait. They will be of specific interest to researches addressing ecological, evolutionary and epidemiological questions using trypanosomes as an experimental system.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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