Genome-wide gene expression profiling analysis of Leishmania major and Leishmania infantum developmental stages reveals substantial differences between the two species

Posted by Hamed Shateri Najafabadi

The title of this post is in fact the title of a recent paper published by Annie Rochette and her colleagues in BMC Genomics (2008, 9:255). This work, which has been done in Barbara Papadopoulou‘s lab at Laval University, reveals unexpected differences between developmental regulation of genes at mRNA level between the two closely related trypanosomatids Leishmania major and Leishmania infantum. I asked Annie to write a summary of her paper in her own point of view. I hope you agree with me that the author’s point of view should be well reflected in the abstract of the paper, so was the case for this article. Here is the abstract as Annie sent to me:

“Leishmania parasites cause a diverse spectrum of diseases in humans ranging from spontaneously healing skin lesions (e.g., L. major) to life-threatening visceral diseases (e.g., L. infantum). The high conservation in gene content and genome organization between Leishmania major and Leishmania infantum contrasts their distinct pathophysiologies, suggesting that highly regulated hierarchical and temporal changes in gene expression may be involved. We used a multispecies DNA oligonucleotide microarray to compare whole-genome expression patterns of promastigote (sandfly vector) and amastigote (mammalian macrophages) developmental stages between L. major and L. infantum. Seven percent of the total L. infantum genome and 9.3% of the L. major genome were differentially expressed at the RNA level throughout development. The main variations were found in genes involved in metabolism, cellular organization and biogenesis, transport and genes encoding unknown function. Remarkably, this comparative global interspecies analysis demonstrated that only 10-12% of the differentially expressed genes were common to L. major and L. infantum. Differentially expressed genes are randomly distributed across chromosomes further supporting a posttranscriptional control, which is likely to involve a variety of 3’UTR elements. This study highlighted substantial differences in gene expression patterns between L. major and L. infantum. These important species-specific differences in stage-regulated gene expression may contribute to the disease tropism that distinguishes L. major from L. infantum.”

Thanks to Annie and her colleagues for this beautiful paper.

I would also like to highlight another paper by Nagalakshmi and colleagues which was published in Science about a month ago. In this work, the transcriptome of yeast is analyzed, but not using microarrays. They used massive high-throughput Illumina sequencing to sequence the whole transcriptome of yeast. This approach, in addition to providing precise estimates for the extent at which each part of the genome is transcribed, gives a plethora of other information that is extremely difficult to gain by routine microarray analysis. First of all, it does not need any a priori assumption regarding the regions that are being transcribed, similar to tiling arrays with the difference that the resolution is several folds higher than any affordable tiling array. It also provides information regarding post-transcriptional modifications of RNAs, such as splicing, alternative splicing, poly-adenylation, etc (see Hani’s blog). Trypanosomatids have surprised us several times, by showing us that a mature RNA can look nothing like its precursor due to the high extent of editing and trans-splicing. They have shown us that it is possible to transcribe almost half of a complete chromosome in just one huge RNA, or that a chromosome can be extensively transcribed from both strands. I am sure these surprises will be nothing once we have the data from sequencing the whole transcriptome of a trypanosomatid species; two will be better!