An allele-selective inter-chromosomal protein bridge supports monogenic antigen expression in the African trypanosome

Joana R. C. Faria, Michele Tinti, Catarina A. Marques, Martin Zoltner, Harunori Yoshikawa, Mark C. Field & David Horn.

Nature Communications 14, Article number:8200 (2023)


UPF1-like helicases play roles in telomeric heterochromatin formation and X-chromosome inactivation, and also in monogenic variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) expression via VSG exclusion-factor-2 (VEX2), a UPF1-related protein in the African trypanosome. We show that VEX2 associates with chromatin specifically at the single active VSG expression site on chromosome 6, forming an allele-selective connection, via VEX1, to the trans-splicing locus on chromosome 9, physically bridging two chromosomes and the VSG transcription and splicing compartments. We further show that the VEX-complex is multimeric and self-regulates turnover to tightly control its abundance. Using single cell transcriptomics following VEX2-depletion, we observed simultaneous derepression of many other telomeric VSGs and multi-allelic VSG expression in individual cells. Thus, an allele-selective, inter-chromosomal, and self-limiting VEX1-2 bridge supports monogenic VSG expression and multi-allelic VSG exclusion.