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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. Jun 2012; 6(6): e1667.
Published online Jun 5, 2012. doi:  10.1371/journal.pntd.0001667
PMCID: PMC3367980

Genetics of Host Response to Leishmania tropica in Mice – Different Control of Skin Pathology, Chemokine Reaction, and Invasion into Spleen and Liver

Christian R. Engwerda, Editor



Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by protozoan parasites of genus Leishmania. The frequent involvement of Leishmania tropica in human leishmaniasis has been recognized only recently. Similarly as L. major, L. tropica causes cutaneous leishmaniasis in humans, but can also visceralize and cause systemic illness. The relationship between the host genotype and disease manifestations is poorly understood because there were no suitable animal models.


We studied susceptibility to L. tropica, using BALB/c-c-STS/A (CcS/Dem) recombinant congenic (RC) strains, which differ greatly in susceptibility to L. major. Mice were infected with L. tropica and skin lesions, cytokine and chemokine levels in serum, and parasite numbers in organs were measured.

Principal Findings

Females of BALB/c and several RC strains developed skin lesions. In some strains parasites visceralized and were detected in spleen and liver. Importantly, the strain distribution pattern of symptoms caused by L. tropica was different from that observed after L. major infection. Moreover, sex differently influenced infection with L. tropica and L. major. L. major-infected males exhibited either higher or similar skin pathology as females, whereas L. tropica-infected females were more susceptible than males. The majority of L. tropica-infected strains exhibited increased levels of chemokines CCL2, CCL3 and CCL5. CcS-16 females, which developed the largest lesions, exhibited a unique systemic chemokine reaction, characterized by additional transient early peaks of CCL3 and CCL5, which were not present in CcS-16 males nor in any other strain.


Comparison of L. tropica and L. major infections indicates that the strain patterns of response are species-specific, with different sex effects and largely different host susceptibility genes.

Author Summary

Several hundred million people are exposed to the risk of leishmaniasis, a disease caused by intracellular protozoan parasites of several Leishmania species and transmitted by phlebotomine sand flies. In humans, L. tropica causes cutaneous form of leishmaniasis with painful and long-persisting lesions in the site of the insect bite, but the parasites can also penetrate to internal organs. The relationship between the host genes and development of the disease was demonstrated for numerous infectious diseases. However, the search for susceptibility genes in the human population could be a difficult task. In such cases, animal models may help to discover the role of different genes in interactions between the parasite and the host. Unfortunately, the literature contains only a few publications about the use of animals for L. tropica studies. Here, we report an animal model suitable for genetic, pathological and drug studies in L. tropica infection. We show how the host genotype influences different disease symptoms: skin lesions, parasite dissemination to the lymph nodes, spleen and liver, and increase of levels of chemokines CCL2, CCL3 and CCL5 in serum.

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