Trypanosomatids are protozoan parasites that cause human and animal disease. Trypanosoma brucei telomeric ESs (expression sites) contain genes that are critical for parasite survival in the bloodstream, including the VSG (variant surface glycoprotein) genes, used for antigenic variation, and the SRA (serum-resistance-associated) gene, which confers resistance to lysis by human serum. In addition, ESs contain ESAGs (expression-site-associated genes), whose functions, with few exceptions, have remained elusive. A bioinformatic analysis of the ESAG5 gene of T. brucei showed that it encodes a protein with two BPI (bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein)/LBP (lipopolysaccharide-binding protein)/PLUNC (palate, lung and nasal epithelium clone)-like domains and that it belongs to a multigene family termed (GR)ESAG5 (gene related to ESAG5). Members of this family are found with various copy number in different members of the Trypanosomatidae family. T. brucei has an expanded repertoire, with multiple ESAG5 copies and at least five GRESAG5 genes. In contrast, the parasites of the genus Leishmania, which are intracellular parasites, have only a single GRESAG5 gene. Although the amino acid sequence identity between the (GR)ESAG5 gene products between species is as low as 15–25%, the BPI/LBP/PLUNC-like domain organization and the length of the proteins are highly conserved, and the proteins are predicted to be membrane-anchored or secreted. Current work focuses on the elucidation of possible roles for this gene family in infection. This is likely to provide novel insights into the evolution of the BPI/LBP/PLUNC-like domains.

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