Monoallelic expression and epigenetic inheritance sustained by a Trypanosoma brucei variant surface glycoprotein exclusion complex.

Joana Faria, Lucy Glover, Sebastian Hutchinson, Cordula Boehm, Mark C. Field, David Horn.

Nat Commun [Internet]. 2019;10(1):3023.


The largest gene families in eukaryotes are subject to allelic exclusion, but mechanisms underpinning single allele selection and inheritance remain unclear. Here, we describe a protein complex sustaining variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) allelic exclusion and antigenic variation in Trypanosoma brucei parasites. The VSG-exclusion-1 (VEX1) protein binds both telomeric VSG-associated chromatin and VEX2, an ortholog of nonsense-mediated-decay helicase, UPF1. VEX1 and VEX2 assemble in an RNA polymerase-I transcription-dependent manner and sustain the active, subtelomeric VSG-associated transcription compartment. VSG transcripts and VSG coats become highly heterogeneous when VEX proteins are depleted. Further, the DNA replication-associated chromatin assembly factor, CAF-1, binds to and specifically maintains VEX1 compartmentalisation following DNA replication. Thus, the VEX-complex controls VSG-exclusion, while CAF-1 sustains VEX-complex inheritance in association with the active-VSG. Notably, the VEX2-orthologue and CAF-1 in mammals are also implicated in exclusion and inheritance functions. In trypanosomes, these factors sustain a highly effective and paradigmatic immune evasion strategy.