Gene expression in Leishmania is regulated predominantly by gene dosage

Stefano A. Iantorno, Caroline Durrant, Asis Khan, Mandy J. Sanders, Stephen M. Beverley, Wesley C. Warren, Matthew Berriman, David L. Sacks, James A. Cotton, Michael E. Grigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Leishmania tropica, a unicellular eukaryotic parasite present in North and East Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, has been linked to large outbreaks of cutaneous leishmaniasis in displaced populations in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. Here, we report the genome sequence of this pathogen and 7,863 identified protein-coding genes, and we show that the majority of clinical isolates possess high levels of allelic diversity, genetic admixture, heterozygosity, and extensive aneuploidy. By utilizing paired genome-wide high-throughput DNA sequencing (DNA-seq) with RNA-seq, we found that gene dosage, at the level of individual genes or chromosomal “somy” (a general term covering disomy, trisomy, tetrasomy, etc.), accounted for greater than 85% of total gene expression variation in genes with a 2-fold or greater change in expression. High gene copy number variation (CNV) among membrane-bound transporters, a class of proteins previously implicated in drug resistance, was found for the most highly differentially expressed genes. Our results suggest that gene dosage is an adaptive trait that confers phenotypic plasticity among natural Leishmania populations by rapid down- or upregulation of transporter proteins to limit the effects of environmental stresses, such as drug selection. IMPORTANCE Leishmania is a genus of unicellular eukaryotic parasites that is responsible for a spectrum of human diseases that range from cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (MCL) to life-threatening visceral leishmaniasis (VL). Developmental and strain-specific gene expression is largely thought to be due to mRNA message stability or posttranscriptional regulatory networks for this species, whose genome is organized into polycistronic gene clusters in the absence of promoter-mediated regulation of transcription initiation of nuclear genes. Genetic hybridization has been demonstrated to yield dramatic structural genomic variation, but whether such changes in gene dosage impact gene expression has not been formally investigated. Here we show that the predominant mechanism determining transcript abundance differences (>85%) in Leishmania tropica is that of gene dosage at the level of individual genes or chromosomal somy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01393-17
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • CNV
  • Gene dosage
  • Gene expression
  • Leishmania
  • RNA-seq


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