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Nature. 1993 Apr 15;362(6421):603-9.

A structural motif in the variant surface glycoproteins of Trypanosoma brucei.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The variable domain of the trypanosome variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) ILTat 1.24 has been shown by X-ray crystallography to resemble closely the structures of VSG MITat 1.2, despite their low sequence similarity. Specific structural features of these VSGs, including substitution of carbohydrate for an alpha-helix, can be found in other VSG sequences. Thus antigenic variation in trypanosomes is accomplished by sequence variation, not gross structural alteration; the extensive sequence differences among VSGs may be required for another reason, such as the avoidance of recognition by helper T cells. Additionally, VSG sequences are found to define families, within a VSG superfamily, which have evolved in the trypanosome genome.

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