The Trypanosoma cruzi mucin family is transcribed from hundreds of genes having hypervariable regions

Javier M. Di Noia, Iván D'Orso, Lena Åslund, Daniel O. Sánchez, Alberto C C Frasch

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66 Scopus citations


In previous works we have identified genes in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi whose structure resemble those of mammalian mucin genes. Indirect evidence suggested that these genes might encode the core protein of parasite mucins, glycoproteins that were proposed to be involved in the interaction with, and invasion of, mammalian host cells. We now show that the mucin gene family from T. cruzi is much larger and diverse than expected. A minimal number of 484 mucin genes per haploid genome is calculated for a parasite clone. Most, if not all, genes are transcribed, as deduced from cDNA analysis. Comparison of the cDNA sequences showed evidences of a high mutation rate in localized regions of the genes. Sequence conservation among members of the family is much higher in the untranslated (UTR) regions than in the sequences encoding the mature mucin core protein. Transcription units can be classified into two main subfamilies according to the sequence homologies in the 5'-UTR, whereas the 3'-UTR is highly conserved in all clones analyzed. The common origin of members of this gene family as well as their relationships can be defined by sequence comparison of different domains in the transcription units. The regions encoding the N and C termini, supposed to correspond to the leader peptide and membrane-anchoring signal, respectively, (Di Noia, J. M., Sanchez, D. O., and Frasch, A. C. C. (1995) J. BioL Chem. 270, 24146-24149) are highly conserved. Conversely, the central regions are highly variable. These regions encode the target sites for O- glycosylation and are made of a variable number of repetitive units rich in Thr and Pro residues or are nonrepetitive but still rich in Thr/Ser and Pro residues. The region putatively coding for the N-terminal domain of the mature core protein is hypervariable, being different in most of the transcripts sequenced. Nonrepetitive central domains are unique to each gene. Gene-specific probes show that the relative abundance of different mRNAs varies greatly within the same parasite clone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10843-10850
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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