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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Sep 12;103(37):13837-42. Epub 2006 Aug 31.

Leishmania disease development depends on the presence of apoptotic promastigotes in the virulent inoculum.

Author information

  • 1Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, University of Lübeck, D-23538 Lübeck, Germany. zandbergen@uni-luebeck.de

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 31;103(44):16615.


The obligate intracellular pathogen Leishmania major survives and multiplies in professional phagocytes. The evasion strategy to circumvent killing by host phagocytes and establish a productive infection is poorly understood. Here we report that the virulent inoculum of Leishmania promastigotes contains a high ratio of annexin A5-binding apoptotic parasites. This subpopulation of parasites is characterized by a round body shape, a swollen kinetoplast, nuclear condensation, and a lack of multiplication and represents dying or already dead parasites. After depleting the apoptotic parasites from a virulent population, Leishmania do not survive in phagocytes in vitro and lose their disease-inducing ability in vivo. TGF-beta induced by apoptotic parasites is likely to mediate the silencing of phagocytes and lead to survival of infectious Leishmania populations. The data demonstrate that apoptotic promastigotes, in an altruistic way, enable the intracellular survival of the viable parasites.

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