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Prospects for vaccination against pathogenic African trypanosomes

African trypanosomes cause human and animal African trypanosomiases, which are chronic, debilitating and often fatal diseases of people and livestock in sub-Saharan Africa. The extracellular protozoan parasites are exemplars of antigenic variation. They direct host-protective B-cell and T-cell immune responses towards hypervariable components of their variable surface glycoprotein coat and evade immune elimination by generating new surface coat antigenic variants at a rate that supersedes immune destruction. This results in recurring waves of parasitemia, tissue invasion and escalating immunopathology in trypanosomiasis-susceptible hosts. Here, we discuss the possibility that host control of African trypanosomes might be improved by immunization with conserved VSG peptides and invariant surface glycoproteins. Infection-induced T-cell recall responses to these typically poorly expressed or nonimmunogenic parasite components induce tissue phagocytes to produce microbicidal materials that kill trypanosomes. Preliminary data that support this immune-enhancing vaccine strategy are discussed, as are host and parasite interactions that might downregulate the protective responses. These include infection-induced immunosuppression and increasing virulence of infecting parasites over time.

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