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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Oct 15;89(20):9944-8.

Leishmania infections damage the feeding mechanism of the sandfly vector and implement parasite transmission by bite.

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  • 1Department of Parasitology, Hebrew University, Hadassah Medical School, Jersalem, Israel.


Leishmania parasites are transmitted by the bites of infected female sandflies by a mechanism that has not been clarified. Leishmania infections in the vector develop only in the gut, and the parasites' exit is through the food channel in the proboscis. The problem is how during the bite, when blood flows in, parasites are emitted through the same channel in the opposite direction. It is well documented that infected sandflies maintained on sugar diets are potent vectors, whereas transmission fails after constant feeding on blood. Hence to study the mechanism of transmission, we fed these diets to Phlebotomus papatasi infected with L. major. Histological examination demonstrated that only in the sugar-fed flies did the cuticle lining of the cardiac valve detach and other valve tissues degenerate gradually. The injury of the main valve of the food pumps hindered gorging of most flies when force-fed from capillaries, and they regurgitated the gut contents with fluids from the capillaries. We suggest that infections are caused by parasites regurgitated from the stomach that are deposited in the host tissue. We found that secretion of chitinolytic enzymes by cultured L. major parasites is inhibited by blood or hemoglobin, and hence these enzymes are apparently absent from the blood-fed infected flies, where the cardiac valve appears undamaged. We therefore presume that lysis of the chitin in the cuticle lining of the valve leads to exposure and degeneration of the underlying tissues.

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