The unicellular parasite Trypanosoma brucei rapidly removes host-derived immunoglobulin (Ig) from its cell surface, which is dominated by a single type of glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored variant surface glycoprotein (VSG). We have determined the mechanism of antibody clearance and found that Ig-VSG immune complexes are passively sorted to the posterior cell pole, where they are endocytosed. The backward movement of immune complexes requires forward cellular motility but is independent of endocytosis and of actin function. We suggest that the hydrodynamic flow acting on swimming trypanosomes causes directional movement of Ig-VSG immune complexes in the plane of the plasma membrane, that is, immunoglobulins attached to VSG function as molecular sails. Protein sorting by hydrodynamic forces helps to protect trypanosomes against complement-mediated immune destruction in culture and possibly in infected mammals but likewise may be of functional significance at the surface of other cell types such as epithelial cells lining blood vessels.
- blood-stream forms
- antigenic variation