Late Stage Infection in Sleeping Sickness
by Hartwig Wolburg, Stefan Mogk, Sven Acker, Claudia Frey, Monika Meinert, Caroline Schönfeld, Michael Lazarus, Yoshihiro Urade, Bruno Kilunga Kubata, Michael Duszenko
At the turn of the 19th century, trypanosomes were identified as the causative agent of sleeping sickness and their presence within the cerebrospinal fluid of late stage sleeping sickness patients was described. However, no definitive proof of how the parasites reach the brain has been presented so far. Analyzing electron micrographs prepared from rodent brains more than 20 days after infection, we present here conclusive evidence that the parasites first enter the brain via the choroid plexus from where they penetrate the epithelial cell layer to reach the ventricular system. Adversely, no trypanosomes were observed within the parenchyma outside blood vessels. We also show that brain infection depends on the formation of long slender trypanosomes and that the cerebrospinal fluid as well as the stroma of the choroid plexus is a hostile environment for the survival of trypanosomes, which enter the pial space including the Virchow-Robin space via the subarachnoid space to escape degradation. Our data suggest that trypanosomes do not intend to colonize the brain but reside near or within the glia limitans, from where they can re-populate blood vessels and disrupt the sleep wake cycles.