Thèse de doctorat
Résumé : The trypanolytic factor of human serum : a trojan horse.

African trypanosomes, the prototype of which is Trypanosoma brucei, are protozoan parasites of huge clinical, veterinary and economical importance. They develop in the body fluids of various mammals (including humans) where they face and manipulate many different aspects of the immune system. The extent of this interplay is pivotal to both host and parasite survival, and depending on parasite virulence and host susceptibility, infection duration ranges from some months to several years. At the end, host survival is invariably compromised.

Humans and few other primates provide however a striking exception to this fatal outcome. They are indeed fully protected against most trypanosome infections through the presence in their blood of a so-called trypanosome lytic factor (TLF). The TLF is known to circulate mainly in the form of a high density lipoprotein particle characterized by the simultaneous presence of two primate-specific proteins: haptoglobin-related protein (Hpr) and apolipoprotein L-I (apoL-I).

We have contributed to delineate the respective roles played by Hpr and apoL-I in the lysis process.

ApoL-I was shown to be the exclusive toxin of the TLF. In its absence humans get fully susceptible to any trypanosome infection. The toxin was shown to kill the parasite after endocytosis through the generation of ionic pores in the lysosomal membrane. Those pores dissipate membrane potential and trigger the influx of chloride ions from the cytoplasm into the lysosomal compartment, leading to an eventually fatal uncontrolled osmotic phenomenon.

ApoL-I efficient delivery to the parasite relies on Hpr. African trypanosomes indeed fulfil their heme nutritional requirements by receptor-mediated internalization of the complex formed by haptoglobin, an evolutionary conserved acute-phase protein, and hemoglobin, resulting from physiological intravascular hemolysis. This heme uptake by the auxotrophic parasites contributes to both growth rate and resistance against host oxidative burst. In human serum, the trypanosome receptor is unable to discriminate between Hp and the closely related TLF-bound Hpr, explaining TLF efficient endocytosis.

As such, the TLF acts as a Trojan horse, killing the parasite from inside the cell after having deceived its vigilance through the high similarity between heme-delivering haptoglobin and toxin-associated Hpr.