TSSA (trypomastigote small surface antigen) is a polymorphic mucin-like molecule displayed on the surface of Trypanosoma cruzi trypomastigote forms. To evaluate its functional properties, we undertook comparative biochemical and genetic approaches on isoforms present in parasite stocks from extant evolutionary lineages (CL Brener and Sylvio X-10). We show that CL Brener TSSA, but not the Sylvio X-10 counterpart, exhibits dose-dependent and saturable binding towards non-macrophagic cell lines. This binding triggers Ca2+-based signalling responses in the target cell while providing an anchor for the invading parasite. Accordingly, exogenous addition of either TSSA-derived peptides or specific antibodies significantly inhibits invasion of CL Brener, but not Sylvio X-10, trypomastigotes. Non-infective epimastigote forms, which do not express detectable levels of TSSA, were stably transfected with TSSA cDNA from either parasite stock. Although both transfectants produced a surface-associated mucin-like TSSA product, epimastigotes expressing CL Brener TSSA showed a ~2-fold increase in their attachment to mammalian cells. Overall, these findings indicate that CL Brener TSSA functions as a parasite adhesin, engaging surface receptor(s) and inducing signalling pathways on the host cell as a prerequisite for parasite internalization. More importantly, the contrasting functional features of TSSA isoforms provide one appealing mechanism underlying the differential infectivity of T. cruzi stocks.

You do not currently have access to this content.