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Biology of Parasitism
Click here to find out why we are the coolest parasitology lab! We were the contest winners at the Molecular Parasitology Meeting 2020!

Parasitism is the ability of an organism to exploit its host. The African trypanosome is a single-celled parasite responsible for a fatal disease in humans (sleeping sickness) and a chronic disease in cattle (Nagana). Our group is interested in understanding the disease mechanisms caused by two species of African trypanosomes (Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma congolense), characterizing both parasite and host factors. Our group has two main interests:

TISSUE TROPISM - We have recently discovered that adipose tissue is an important reservoir of parasites in mouse infection and that the parasites adapt functionally to the tissue (1, 2). These unexpected observations raised important questions. How do parasites move between tissues? What is the selective advantage to accumulate in this tissue? Are parasites equally susceptible to drug treatment? Is adipose tissue an immunologically inactive organ (3)? How do parasites enter or leave tissues (2)? What is the heterogeneity of the parasite population in each tissue?

GENE REGULATION and ANTIGENIC VARIATION – Our group are interested in understanding the mechanisms that regulate antigenic variation, a process that allows trypanosomes to escape the host's immune response (4). Currently, we are interested in understanding the importance of non-coding RNAs (5) and epigenetic modifications in the regulation of genes underlying antigenic variation (6).

In 2017, our laboratory was awarded an ERC consolidation grant. Previous grants were from HHMI, EMBO, FCT and Gulbenkian. Students and post-docs have been awarded fellowships from Marie Curie, Human Frontiers and FCT.

Follow us onTwitter (@luisamfigueired).

1) Trindade, S. et al. (2016). Trypanosoma  brucei Parasites Occupy and Functionally Adapt to the Adipose Tissue in Mice. Cell Host Microbe 19, 837-848.
(2) De Niz, M. et al. (2021) Organotypic endothelial adhesion molecules are key for Trypanosoma brucei tropism and virulence. Cell Rep 36, 109741.
(3) Machado, H. et al. (2021). Trypanosoma brucei triggers a broad immune response in the adipose tissue. PLoS Pathogens 17, e1009933.
(4) Silva Pereira, S., Jackson, A. P. & Figueiredo, L. M. (2021). Evolution of the variant surface glycoprotein family in African trypanosomes. Trends in Parasitology, in press.
(5) Guegan, F. et al. (2020). A long non-coding RNA controls parasite differentiation in African trypanosomes. bioRxiv.
(6) Viegas, I. J. et al. (2020). N6-methyladenosine in poly(A) tails stabilize VSG transcripts. bioRxiv.

Research Team

Abdulbasit Amin
Lab Technician

Christoph Wenzl
PhD Student

David Ferreira
Lab Technician

Hugo Luiz
MSc Student

Lara López Escobar
PhD Student

Leonor Pinho
Lab Manager

Lúcia Serra
PhD Student

Michal Grzegorz Malecki
Postdoctoral Researcher

Sandra Trindade
Senior Postdoctoral Researcher

Sara Silva Pereira
Visiting Researcher

Research Areas

  • Molecular mecanisms of gene expression
  • Biology of extra-vascular parasites
  • Circadian rhythm of parasites and host

Ongoing Research Projects

2019/2023 Cell2Cell: What makes a successful pathogen? Understanding the impact of cell-to-cell heterogeneity in chromatin structure on infection and adaptation. Coordinator Luísa Figueiredo. Funding Agency: European Commission.

2019/2021 TRYPTISSUE: Characterising Trypanosoma tissue tropism: new perspectives for variant surface glycoproteins. Coordinator: Luísa Figueiredo. Funding Agency: European Commission.

2019/2021 HFSP fellowship - Human Frontier Science Program. Coordinator: Mariana De Niz. Funding Agency: Human Frontier Science Program.

2018/2022 FatTryp: Exploring the hidden life of African trypanosomes: parasite fat tropism and implications for disease. Coordinator: Luísa Figueiredo. Funding Agency: European Commission.

2018/2021 FatReservoir: Importância dos Reservatórios de Parasitas Extravasculares em Gado e Modelos Laboratoriais de Ratinhos. Coordinator: Sandra Trindade. Funding Agency: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.

2018/2021 Quando a célula hospedeira já não é tão acolhedora...uma quebra de energia ou um aumento da toxicidade? Coordinator: João Rodrigues. Funding Agency: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.


2020 "la Caixa" Foundation - Health Research 2020 Award

2012 HHMI International Early Career Scientist (Luísa Figueiredo)

2010 Crioestaminal Award (Luísa Figueiredo)

2002 Award from the American Society for Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, in recognition of scientific excellence in Molecular, Cellular and Immunoparasitology (Luísa Figueiredo)

Selected Publications

Aresta-Branco F, Sanches-Vaz M, Bento F, Rodrigues JA, Figueiredo LM (2019). African trypanosomes expressing multiple VSGs are rapidly eliminated by the host immune system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116:20725-20735.

Sanches-Vaz M, Temporão A, Luis R, Nunes-Cabaço H, Mendes AM, Goellner S, Carvalho T, Figueiredo LM, Prudêncio M (2019). Trypanosoma brucei infection protects mice against malaria. PLoS Pathogens 15(11):e1008145.

Rijo-Ferreira, F., Carvalho, T., Afonso, C., Sanches-Vaz, M., Costa, R. M., Figueiredo, L. M., and Takahashi, J. S. (2018). Sleeping sickness is a circadian disorder. Nat Commun 9, 62.

McCulloch, R., Cobbold, C. A., Figueiredo, L. M., Jackson, A., Morrison, L. J., Mugnier, M. R., Papavasiliou, N., Schnaufer, A., and Matthews, K. (2017). Emerging challenges in understanding trypanosome antigenic variation. Emerg. Top. Life Sci. 1, 585-592.

Rijo-Ferreira F, Pinto-Neves D, Barbosa-Morais NL, Takahashi J & Figueiredo LM (2017) Metabolism of Trypanosoma brucei is under circadian control. Nat Microbiol., 2:17032.

Smith, T. K., Bringaud, F., Nolan, D. P., and Figueiredo, L. M. (2017). Metabolic reprogramming during the Trypanosoma brucei life cycle. F1000 Research 6, 1-12.

Cicova Z, Dejung M, Skalicky T, Eisenhuth N, Hanselmann S, Morriswood B, Figueiredo LM, Butter F, Janzen CJ. (2016) Two flagellar BAR domain proteins in Trypanosoma brucei with stage-specific regulation. Sci Rep., 6:35826

Tanowitz HB, Scherer PE, Mota MM and Figueiredo LM. (2016) “Adipose tissue: A safe haven for parasites?” Trends Parasitol., 33:276-284.

Trindade S & Rijo-Ferreira F, Carvalho T, Pinto-Neves D, Guegan F, Aresta-Branco F, Bento F, Young SA, Pinto A, Van Den Abbeele J, Ribeiro RM, Dias S, Smith TK, Figueiredo LM. Trypanosoma brucei parasites occupy and functionally adapt to the adipose tissue in mice. Cell Host and Microbe 2016, 19 (6): 837–848

Aresta-Branco F, Pimenta S, Figueiredo LM. A transcription-independent epigenetic mechanism is associated with antigenic switching in Trypanosoma brucei. Nucleic Acids Res 2015 (7): 3131-3146

Pena AC, Pimentel MR, Manso H, Vaz-Drago R, Pinto-Neves D, Aresta-Branco F, Rijo-Ferreira F, Guegan F, Pedro Coelho L, Carmo-Fonseca M, Barbosa-Morais NL, Figueiredo LM (2014) Trypanosoma brucei histone H1 inhibits RNA polymerase I transcription and is important for parasite fitness in vivo. Molecular Microbiology; 93(4):645- 63

Figueiredo LM, Cross GAM, Janzen CJ. (2009) Epigenetics in African trypanosomes. Nat Rev Microbiol; 7: 504-513

Boothroyd CE, Dreesen O, Leonova T, Ly I, Figueiredo LM, Cross GAM, and Papavasiliou FN. (2009) Single endonuclease-generated DNA breaks induce antigenic switching in Trypanosoma brucei Nature; 459: 278-281

Yang X, Figueiredo LM, Espinal A, Okubo E and Li B. (2009) RAP1 Is Essential for Silencing Telomeric Variant Surface Glycoprotein Genes in Trypanosoma brucei. Cell; 137: 99-109

Figueiredo LM, Janzen CJ, Cross GA. (2008) A Histone Methyltransferase Modulates Antigenic Variation in African Trypanosomes. PLoS Biology; 6 (7): e161

group leader : Luísa Miranda Figueiredo
  • Group Leader at iMM since 2009
  • Research Associate at The Rockefeller University, New York, USA (2008-2009)
  • Postdoctoral research at The Rockefeller University, New York, USA
  • PhD from Universidade do Porto and Institut Pasteur, France (2002)