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J Clin Invest. 2006 Oct;116(10):2739-47. Epub 2006 Sep 21.

Blood-brain barrier traversal by African trypanosomes requires calcium signaling induced by parasite cysteine protease.

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Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Clin Invest. 2008 May;118(5):1974.


In this study we investigated why bloodstream forms of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense cross human brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs), a human blood-brain barrier (BBB) model system, at much greater efficiency than do T. b. brucei. After noting that T. b. gambiense displayed higher levels of cathepsin L-like cysteine proteases, we investigated whether these enzymes contribute to parasite crossing. First, we found that T. b. gambiense crossing of human BMECs was abrogated by N-methylpiperazine-urea-Phe-homopheylalanine-vinylsulfone-benzene (K11777), an irreversible inhibitor of cathepsin L-like cysteine proteases. Affinity labeling and immunochemical studies characterized brucipain as the K11777-sensitive cysteine protease expressed at higher levels by T. b. gambiense. K11777-treated T. b. gambiense failed to elicit calcium fluxes in BMECs, suggesting that generation of activation signals for the BBB is critically dependant on brucipain activity. Strikingly, crossing of T. b. brucei across the BBB was enhanced upon incubation with brucipain-rich supernatants derived from T. b. gambiense. The effects of the conditioned medium, which correlated with ability to evoke calcium fluxes, were canceled by K11777, but not by the cathepsin B inhibitor CA074. Collectively, these in vitro studies implicate brucipain as a critical driver of T. b. gambiense transendothelial migration of the human BBB.

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