The ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene promoter was used to construct plasmid vectors that simultaneously express multiple exogenous genes in Trypanosoma cruzi. Vector pBSPANEO expresses neomycin phosphotransferase, and pPAGFPAN expresses both green fluorescent protein and neomycin phosphotransferase from a single promoter. Both vectors require the presence of the rRNA promoter for stable transfection; epimastigotes transfected with pPAGFPAN strongly fluoresced due to green fluorescent protein expression. Intact plasmids were rescued from the T. cruzi-transfected population after >8 mo of culture, indicating stable replication of these vectors. Vectors were integrated into the rRNA locus by homologous recombination and into other loci, presumably by illegitimate recombination. Parasites bearing tandem concatamers of plasmids were also found among the transfectants. Transfectants expressing green fluorescent protein showed a bright green fluorescence distributed throughout the cell. Fluorescence was also detected in amastigotes after infection of mammalian cells with transfected parasites, indicating that the rRNA promoter can drive efficient expression of these reporter genes in multiple life-cycle stages of the parasite. Expression of the heterologous genes was detected after passage in mice or in the insect vector. These vectors will be useful for the genetic dissection of T. cruzi biology and pathogenesis.
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