Experimental evolution reveals post-transcriptional regulation as a novel driver of Leishmania fitness gain

Laura Piel, K. Shanmugha Rajan, Giovanni Bussotti, Hugo Varet, Rachel Legendre, Caroline Proux, Thibaut Douché, Quentin Giai-Gianetto, Thibault Chaze, Thomas Cokelaer, Barbora Vojtkova, Nadav Gordon-Bar, Tirza Doniger, Smadar Cohen-Chalamish, Praveenkumar Rengaraj, Céline Besse, Anne Boland, Jovana Sadlova, Jean-François Deleuze, Mariette MatondoRon Unger, Petr Volf, Shulamit Michaeli, Pascale Pescher, Gerald F. Späth

Research output: Working paper / PreprintPreprint


The protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani causes fatal human visceral leishmaniasis in absence of treatment. Genome instability has been recognized as a driver in Leishmania fitness gain in response to environmental change or chemotherapy. How genome instability generates beneficial phenotypes despite potential deleterious gene dosage effects is unknown. Here we address this important open question applying experimental evolution and integrative systems approaches on parasites adapting to in vitro culture. Phenotypic analyses of parasites from early and late stages of culture adaptation revealed an important fitness tradeoff, with selection for accelerated growth in promastigote culture (fitness gain) impairing infectivity (fitness costs). Comparative genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics analyses revealed a complex regulatory network driving parasite fitness, with genome instability causing highly reproducible, gene dosage-dependent changes in protein abundance linked to post-transcriptional regulation. These in turn were associated with a gene dosage-independent reduction in abundance of flagellar transcripts and a coordinated increase in abundance of coding and non-coding RNAs implicated in ribosomal biogenesis and protein translation. We correlated differential expression of small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) with changes in rRNA modification, providing first evidence that Leishmania fitness gain in culture may be controlled by post-transcriptional and epitranscriptomic regulation. Our findings propose a novel model for Leishmania fitness gain in culture, where differential regulation of mRNA stability and the generation of fitness-adapted ribosomes may potentially filter deleterious from beneficial gene dosage effects and provide proteomic robustness to genetically heterogenous, adapting parasite populations. This model challenges the current, genome-centric approach to Leishmania epidemiology and identifies the Leishmania transcriptome and non-coding small RNome as potential novel sources for the discovery of biomarkers that may be associated with parasite phenotypic adaptation in clinical settings.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages54
StatePublished - 30 Nov 2021

Publication series

PublisherCold Spring Harbor Laboratory


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