Published on by Tim Downing
The kinetoplastid protozoan Leishmania tropica mainly causes cutaneous leishmaniasis in humans in the Middle East, and relapse or treatment failure after treatment are common in this area. L. tropica’s digenic life cycle includes meiosis in the vector sandfly and mitotic cell division in the mammalian host. Sexual reproduction occurs even if it is rare, during which genetic exchange and recombination may occur. Understanding these processes is complicated by chromosome instability during cell division that yields aneuploidy, recombination and heterozygosity. This combination of rare recombination and aneuploid permits potential evaluation of hypothetical parasexual mating, where diploid cells fuse to form a transient tetraploid that undergoes chromosomal recombination and gradual chromosomal loss. The genome-wide SNP diversity from 22 L. tropica isolates showed chromosome-specific runs of patchy homozygosity and extensive chromosome copy number variation. All these isolates were collected during 2007-2017 in the Middle East and included isolates from a patient possessing two genetically distinct leishmaniasis infections three years apart with no evidence of re-infection. We found on the same chromosomes (chr36) in different samples ancestries matching the reference genome with few derived alleles, followed by blocks of heterozygous SNPs, and then by clusters of homozygous SNPs with specific recombination breakpoints at the inferred origin of replication. Other chromosomes had similar marked changes in heterozygosity at strand-switch regions separating polycistronic transcriptional units. These large-scale intra- and inter-chromosomal changes in diversity driven by recombination and aneuploidy suggest multiple mechanisms of cell reproduction and diversification in L. tropica, including mitotic, meiotic and parasexual processes. It underpins the need of more genomic surveillance of Leishmania, to detect emerging hybrids that could spread more widely and to better understand the association between genetic variation and treatment outcome. Furthering our understanding of Leishmania genome evolution and ancestry will aid better diagnostics and treatment for cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by L. tropica in the Middle East.

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