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Biology of Parasitism

Parasitism relies on the ability of an organism to exploit its host. Trypanosoma brucei is a unicellular parasite responsible for a fatal disease in humans (sleeping sickness), and for a chronic disease in cattle (nagana) in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are interested in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms employed by T. brucei to be an effective parasite. Our group has three main interests:

TISSUE TROPISM - We recently demonstrated that the adipose tissue is a major parasite reservoir during a mouse infection and that parasites functionally adapt to the tissue (1). These unexpected observations raised many questions: how do parasites move between tissues? What is the selective advantage to accumulate in this tissue? Are parasites equally susceptible to drug treatment? How do parasites enter/exit the tissues? What is the extravascular contribution to the dynamics of parasite transmission?

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM – We showed that Trypanosomes have a circadian clock that control their metabolism (2). What are the molecular components and mechanisms of this circadian clock? How does it control metabolism? What is the impact in parasite virulence and disease outcome? We also showed that Trypanosomes alter the circadian rhythm of the host (3). How is this interaction mediated? Who benefits most from these changes? The host or the parasite?

ANTIGENIC VARIATION – A long standing interest of our group is to understand the mechanisms that govern antigenic variation, a process that allows trypanosomes to escape the host immune response (4). We are currently interested in understanding the importance that non-coding RNAs and epigenetic modifications in the regulation of genes underlying antigenic variation.

Our lab has been awarded an ERC consolidator grant in 2017. Previous grants were from HHMI, EMBO, FCT and Gulbenkian.

Find us on Facebook ( or Twitter (@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) Rijo-Ferreira, F. et al. (2017). Trypanosoma brucei metabolism is under circadian control. Nat Microbiol 2, 17032. (3) Rijo-Ferreira, F. et al. (2018). Sleeping sickness is a circadian disorder. Nat Commun 9, 62. (4) Aresta-Branco, F. et al. (2016). A transcription-independent epigenetic mechanism is associated with antigenic switching in Trypanosoma brucei. Nucleic Acids Res 44, 3131-3146.

Research Team

Adriana Temporão
PhD Student

Fabien Guegan
Senior Postdoctoral Researcher

Henrique Machado
PhD Student

Idálio Viegas
PhD Student

João Colaço
Lab Technician

Juan P. Macêdo
Postdoctoral Researcher

Leonor Pinho
Lab Manager

Mariana de Niz
Postdoctoral Researcher

Sandra Trindade
Senior Postdoctoral Researcher

Sara Silva Pereira
Postdoctoral Researcher

Research Areas

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

Ongoing Research Projects

2018/2022 Exploring the hidden life of African trypanosomes: parasite fat tropism and implications for disease (Acronym: FatTryp). Coordinator: Luisa M Figueiredo. Agency: European Research Council.

2016/2019 Metabolic consequences of an infection by African trypanosomes. Coordinator: Luisa M Figueiredo. Agency: Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.

2016/2018 Long non-coding RNAs as new diagnostic biomarkers for African sleeping sickness. Coordinator: Fabien Guegan (post-doc in my laboratory). Agency: Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.

2017/2019 YIP Grant EMBO. Coordinator: Luisa M Figueiredo. Agency: PRIV-UE, EMBO.

2016/2018 Small Grant EMBO. Coordinator: Luisa M Figueiredo. Agency: PRIV-UE, EMBO.

2012/2018 How parasites use epigenetics to evade host defenses. Coordinator: Luisa M Figueiredo. Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


  • 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

  • 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