In order to survive as extracellular parasites in the mammalian host environment, Trypanosoma brucei
has developed efficient mechanisms of immune system evasion, which include the abundant expression of a variable surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat. VSGs are anchored in the parasite membrane by covalent C-terminal binding to glycosylphosphatidylinositol and may be periodically removed by a phospholipase C (PLC) and a major surface protein (TbMSP). VSG molecules show extraordinary antigenic diversity and a comparative analysis of protein sequences suggests that conserved elements may be a suitable target against African trypanosomiasis. However, the cleavage mechanisms of these molecules remain unclear. Moreover, in protozoan infections, including those caused by Trypanosoma brucei
, it is possible to observe an increased expression of the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). To address the cleavage mechanism of VSGs, the PROSPER server was used for the identification of VSG sequence cleavage sites. After data compilation, it was observed that 64 VSG consensus sequences showed a high conservation of hydrophobic residues, such as valine (V), methionine (M), leucine (L) and isoleucine (I) in the fifth position—the exact location of the cleavage site. In addition, the PROSPER server identified conserved cleavage site portions of VSG proteins recognized by three matrix metalloproteases (gelatinases: MMP-2, MMP-3 and MMP-9). However, further biological studies are needed in order to analyze and confirm this prediction.
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