At any time, each cell of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei expresses a single species of its major antigenic protein, the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), from a repertoire of >2,000 VSG genes and pseudogenes. The potential to express different VSGs by transcription and recombination allows the parasite to escape the antibody-mediated host immune response, a mechanism known as antigenic variation. The active VSG is transcribed from a sub-telomeric polycistronic unit called the expression site (ES), whose promoter is 40-60 kb upstream of the VSG. While the mechanisms that initiate recombination remain unclear, the resolution phase of these reactions results in the recombinational replacement of the expressed VSG with a donor from one of three distinct chromosomal locations; sub-telomeric loci on the 11 essential chromosomes, on minichromosomes, or at telomere-distal loci. Depending on the type of recombinational replacement (single or double crossover, duplicative gene conversion, etc), several DNA-repair pathways have been thought to play a role. Here we show that VSG recombination relies on at least two distinct DNA-repair pathways, one of which requires RMI1-TOPO3α to suppress recombination and one that is dependent on RAD51 and RMI1. These genetic interactions suggest that both RAD51-dependent and RAD51-independent recombination pathways operate in antigenic switching and that trypanosomes differentially utilize recombination factors for VSG switching, depending on currently unknown parameters within the ES.
Kim, H. S., & Cross, G. A. M. (2011). Identification of trypanosoma brucei RMI1/BLAP75 homologue and its roles in antigenic variation. PLoS ONE, 6(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025313