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J Immunol. 2001 Mar 15;166(6):4020-8.

Successful therapy of lethal murine visceral leishmaniasis with cystatin involves up-regulation of nitric oxide and a favorable T cell response.

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  • 1Molecular Cell Biology Laboratory, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Calcutta, India.


The virulence of Leishmania donovani in mammals depends at least in part on cysteine proteases because they play a key role in CD4(+) T cell differentiation. A 6-fold increase in NO production was observed with 0.5 microM chicken cystatin, a natural cysteine protease inhibitor, in IFN-gamma-activated macrophages. In a 45-day BALB/c mouse model of visceral leishmaniasis, complete elimination of spleen parasite burden was achieved by cystatin in synergistic activation with a suboptimal dose of IFN-gamma. In contrast to the case with promastigotes, cystatin and IFN-gamma inhibited the growth of amastigotes in macrophages. Although in vitro cystatin treatment of macrophages did not induce any NO generation, significantly enhanced amounts of NO were generated by macrophages of cystatin-treated animals. Their splenocytes secreted soluble factors required for the induction of NO biosynthesis, and the increased NO production was paralleled by a concomitant increase in antileishmanial activity. Moreover, splenocyte supernatants treated with anti-IFN-gamma or anti-TNF-alpha Abs suppressed inducible NO generation, whereas i.v. administration of these anticytokine Abs along with combined therapy reversed protection against infection. mRNA expression and flow cytometric analysis of infected spleen cells suggested that cystatin and IFN-gamma treatment, in addition to greatly reducing parasite numbers, resulted in reduced levels of IL-4 but increased levels of IL-12 and inducible NO synthase. Not only was this treatment curative when administered 15 days postinfection, but it also imparted resistance to reinfection. These studies provide a promising alternative for protection against leishmaniasis with a switch of CD4(+) differentiation from Th2 to Th1, indicative of long-term resistance.

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