Open Access Research article

Anatomy and evolution of telomeric and subtelomeric regions in the human protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi

Roberto R Moraes Barros1, Marjorie M Marini1, Cristiane Regina Antônio1, Danielle R Cortez1, Andrea M Miyake1, Fábio M Lima1, Jeronimo C Ruiz2, Daniella C Bartholomeu3, Miguel A Chiurillo4, José Luis Ramirez5 and José Franco da Silveira1*

Author affiliations

1 Departamento de Microbiologia, Imunologia e Parasitologia Escola Paulista de Medicina, UNIFESP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2 Centro de Pesquisas René Rachou, FIOCRUZ-MG, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil

3 Departamento de Parasitologia, ICB, UFMG, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil

4 Decanato de Ciencias de la Salud, Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado (UCLA), Barquisimeto, Venezuela

5 Fundación Instituto de Estudios Avanzados – IDEA, Caracas, Venezuela

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:229  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-229

Published: 8 June 2012



The subtelomeres of many protozoa are highly enriched in genes with roles in niche adaptation. T. cruzi trypomastigotes express surface proteins from Trans-Sialidase (TS) and Dispersed Gene Family-1 (DGF-1) superfamilies which are implicated in host cell invasion. Single populations of T. cruzi may express different antigenic forms of TSs. Analysis of TS genes located at the telomeres suggests that chromosome ends could have been the sites where new TS variants were generated. The aim of this study is to characterize telomeric and subtelomeric regions of T. cruzi available in TriTrypDB and connect the sequences of telomeres to T. cruzi working draft sequence.


We first identified contigs carrying the telomeric repeat (TTAGGG). Of 49 contigs identified, 45 have telomeric repeats at one end, whereas in four contigs the repeats are located internally. All contigs display a conserved telomeric junction sequence adjacent to the hexamer repeats which represents a signature of T. cruzi chromosome ends. We found that 40 telomeric contigs are located on T. cruzi chromosome-sized scaffolds. In addition, we were able to map several telomeric ends to the chromosomal bands separated by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis.

The subtelomeric sequence structure varies widely, mainly as a result of large differences in the relative abundance and organization of genes encoding surface proteins (TS and DGF-1), retrotransposon hot spot genes (RHS), retrotransposon elements, RNA-helicase and N-acetyltransferase genes. While the subtelomeric regions are enriched in pseudogenes, they also contain complete gene sequences matching both known and unknown expressed genes, indicating that these regions do not consist of nonfunctional DNA but are instead functional parts of the expressed genome. The size of the subtelomeric regions varies from 5 to 182 kb; the smaller of these regions could have been generated by a recent chromosome breakage and telomere healing event.


The lack of synteny in the subtelomeric regions suggests that genes located in these regions are subject to recombination, which increases their variability, even among homologous chromosomes. The presence of typical subtelomeric genes can increase the chance of homologous recombination mechanisms or microhomology-mediated end joining, which may use these regions for the pairing and recombination of free ends.