Kinetoplastid protozoa compartmentalize the first seven enzymes of glycolysis and two enzymes of glycerol metabolism in a microbody, the glycosome. While in its mammalian host, Trypanosoma brucei depends entirely on glucose for ATP generation. Under aerobic conditions, most of the glucose is metabolized to pyruvate. Aerobic metabolism depends on the activities of glycosomal triosephosphate isomerase and a mitochondrial glycerophosphate oxidase, and on glycerophosphate ↔ dihydroxyacetone phosphate exchange across the glycosomal membrane. Using a combination of genetics and computer modelling, we show that triosephosphate isomerase is probably essential for bloodstream trypanosome survival, but not for the insect-dwelling procyclics, which preferentially use amino acids as an energy source. When the enzyme level decreased to about 15% of that of the wild-type, the growth rate was halved. Below this level, a lethal rise in dihydroxyacetone phosphate was predicted. Expression of cytosolic triosephosphate isomerase inhibited cell growth. Attempts to knockout the trypanosome alternative oxidase genes (which are needed for glycerophosphate oxidase activity) were unsuccessful, but when we lowered the level of the corresponding mRNA by expressing a homologous double-stranded RNA, oxygen consumption was reduced fourfold and the rate of trypanosome growth was halved.

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