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J Cell Sci. 1999 Sep;112 Pt 18:2993-3002.

Leishmania species: models of intracellular parasitism.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, University of Strathclyde, Todd Centre, Glasgow G4 0NR, UK.


Leishmania species are obligate intracellular parasites of cells of the macrophage-dendritic cell lineage. Indeed, the ability to survive and multiply within macrophages is a feature of a surprising number of infectious agents of major importance to public health, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella typhimurium, Toxoplasma gondii and Trypanosoma cruzi. The relationship between such organisms and their host cells is particularly intriguing because, not only are macrophages capable of potent microbicidal activity, but in their antigen-presenting capacity they can orchestrate the developing immune response. Thus, to initiate a successful infection parasites must gain entry into macrophages, and also withstand or circumvent their killing and degradative functions. However, to sustain a chronic infection, parasites must also subvert macrophage-accessory-cell activities and ablate the development of protective immunity. The leishmanias produce a wide spectrum of disease in mice, and as such they have provided excellent models for studying problems associated with intracellular parasitism. In recent years, largely using these organisms, we have made enormous progress in elucidating the mechanisms by which successful intracellular infection occurs. Furthermore, characterization of immunological pathways that are responsible for resistance or susceptibility to Leishmania has given rise to the Th1/Th2 paradigm of cellular/humoral dominance of the immune response.

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