Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 30383867
PLoS Pathog. 2018 Nov;14(11):e1007412
The bloodstream forms of Trypanosoma brucei (BSF), the parasite protist causing sleeping sickness, primarily proliferate in the blood of their mammalian hosts. The skin and adipose tissues were recently identified as additional major sites for parasite development. Glucose was the only carbon source known to be used by bloodstream trypanosomes to feed their central carbon metabolism, however, the metabolic behaviour of extravascular tissue-adapted parasites has not been addressed yet. Since the production of glycerol is an important primary function of adipocytes, we have adapted BSF trypanosomes to a glucose-depleted but glycerol-rich culture medium (CMM_Glyc/GlcNAc) and compared their metabolism and proteome to those of parasites grown in standard glucose-rich conditions (CMM_Glc). BSF were shown to consume 2-folds more oxygen per consumed carbon unit in CMM_Glyc/GlcNAc and were 11.5-times more sensitive to SHAM, a specific inhibitor of the plant-like alternative oxidase (TAO), which is the only mitochondrial terminal oxidase expressed in BSF. This is consistent with (i) the absolute requirement of the mitochondrial respiratory activity to convert glycerol into dihydroxyacetone phosphate, as deduced from the updated metabolic scheme and (ii) with the 1.8-fold increase of the TAO expression level compared to the presence of glucose. Proton NMR analysis of excreted end products from glycerol and glucose metabolism showed that these two carbon sources are metabolised through the same pathways, although the contributions of the acetate and succinate branches are more important in the presence of glycerol than glucose (10.2% versus 3.4% of the excreted end products, respectively). In addition, metabolomic analyses by mass spectrometry showed that, in the absence of glucose, 13C-labelled glycerol was incorporated into hexose phosphates through gluconeogenesis. As expected, RNAi-mediated down-regulation of glycerol kinase expression abolished glycerol metabolism and was lethal for BSF grown in CMM_Glyc/GlcNAc. Interestingly, BSF have adapted their metabolism to grow in CMM_Glyc/GlcNAc by concomitantly increasing their rate of glycerol consumption and decreasing that of glucose. However, the glycerol kinase activity was 7.8-fold lower in CMM_Glyc/GlcNAc, as confirmed by both western blotting and proteomic analyses. This suggests that the huge excess in glycerol kinase that is not absolutely required for glycerol metabolism, might be used for another yet undetermined non-essential function in glucose rich-conditions. Altogether, these data demonstrate that BSF trypanosomes are well-adapted to glycerol-rich conditions that could be encountered by the parasite in extravascular niches, such as the skin and adipose tissues.