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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 Oct;16(10):5655-63.

Selection against the dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) locus as a probe of genetic alterations in Leishmania major.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The genome of the trypanosomatid protozoan genus Leishmania has been shown to undergo a number of changes relevant to drug resistance and virulence, such as gene amplification, chromosomal rearrangement, and variation in ploidy. Experimental approaches to the study of genomic changes have in some cases been limited by the fact that Leishmania cells are asexual diploids, as are some other trypanosomatids, pathogenic fungi, and cultured mammalian cells. Here we report upon a system which permits the measurement of several types of genomic change occurring at the dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) locus. First, we show that DHFR-TS can function as a positive/negative marker. We used selection against DHFR-TS on a heterozygous line (+/HYG) to generate colonies exhibiting both loss of heterozygosity and structural mutations in DHFR-TS, permitting the first measurement of mutation frequencies in this parasite. Loss of heterozygosity occurred at a frequency ranging from 10(-4) to 10(-6) and was elevated 24-fold by treatment with gamma-irradiation, while the frequency of other events was less than 10(-6) and was increased more than 1,000-fold by nitrosoguanidine treatment. The frequency of loss of heterozygosity relative to other processes such as mutation and gene replacement has important implications for genetic variability in natural Leishmania populations and the generation of both targeted and random mutations. We also developed a protocol for null targeting of diploid cells, in which transfection of a DHFR-TS deletion construct into Leishmania cells followed by negative selection yielded parasites lacking DHFR-TS or foreign sequences. The null-targeting method can be applied to any diploid cell, at any locus for which a negative selection exists. Such marker-free auxotrophic Leishmania cells show potential as an attenuated vaccine, and the methods developed here provide a new approach for manipulating and characterizing the plasticity of the Leishmania genome.

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