Whole genome sequencing shows sleeping sickness relapse is due to parasite regrowth and not reinfection

Joshua B Richardson, Benjamin Evans, Patient P Pyana, Nick Van Reet, Mark Sistrom, Philippe Büscher, Serap Aksoy, Adalgisa Caccone

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    The trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (Tbg) is a cause of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) endemic to many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is almost invariably fatal if untreated and there is no vaccine, which makes monitoring and managing drug resistance highly relevant. A recent study of HAT cases from the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported a high incidence of relapses in patients treated with melarsoprol. Of the 19 Tbg strains isolated from patients enrolled in this study, four pairs were obtained from the same patient before treatment and after relapse. We used whole genome sequencing to investigate whether these patients were infected with a new strain, or if the original strain had regrown to pathogenic levels. Clustering analysis of 5938 single nucleotide polymorphisms supports the hypothesis of regrowth of the original strain, as we found that strains isolated before and after treatment from the same patient were more similar to each other than to other isolates. We also identified 23 novel genes that could affect melarsoprol sensitivity, representing a promising new set of targets for future functional studies. This work exemplifies the utility of using evolutionary approaches to provide novel insights and tools for disease control.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEvolutionary Applications
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)381-393
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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