The question of linkage of virulence traits to variable surface glycoprotein (VSG) expression in African trypanosomiasis was addressed. Previously we demonstrated that daughter cells arising in mice infected with a genetically homogeneous trypanosome population of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense were more virulent than the infecting population (J. A. Inverso and J. M. Mansfield, J. Immunol. 130:412, 1983). These virulent trypanosomes expressed differences in surface phenotype compared with the infecting variant types, and we proposed that virulence may be "linked" to VSG expression. In the present study, however, we have shown that expression of virulence is independent of the VSG phenotype displayed by trypanosome populations. A VSG-identical but highly virulent subpopulation of T. b. rhodesiense LouTat 1 was derived by rapid subpassage and subcloning in immunosuppressed mice. The virulent LouTat 1A subclone derived in this manner killed B10.BR/SgSnJ mice in 3 to 4 days postinfection compared with approximately 60 days for the parent clone, LouTat 1. The virulent subclone LouTat 1A appears to express the same VSG as the less virulent LouTat 1 population, as determined by polyspecific and monoclonal antibody-binding assays, cross-protection tests, and amino acid sequence analyses of the N-terminal portion of the VSG molecules. When LouTat 1 and subclone LouTat 1A were injected into a heterologous host species, multiple variant antigenic types (VATs) arising from each inoculum were isolated and characterized. VATs derived from the virulent subclone were as uniformly virulent for B10.BR mice as LouTat 1A. In summary, these results demonstrate that trypanosome virulence, once expressed, is a stable phenotype that does not seem to be associated with a particular VSG phenotype, nor does virulence change with the expression of different VSG genes.

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