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J Cell Sci. 1999 Aug;112 ( Pt 15):2559-70.

H-2M molecules, like MHC class II molecules, are targeted to parasitophorous vacuoles of Leishmania-infected macrophages and internalized by amastigotes of L. amazonensis and L. mexicana.

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Unité d'Immunophysiologie et Parasitisme Intracellulaire, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.


In their amastigote stage, Leishmania are obligatory intracellular parasites of mammalian macrophages, residing and multiplying within phagolysosomal compartments called parasitophorous vacuoles (PV). These organelles have properties similar to those described for the MHC class II compartments of antigen-presenting cells, sites where peptide-class II molecule complexes are formed before their expression at the cell surface. After infection with Leishmania amazonensis or L. mexicana, endocytosis and degradation of class II molecules by intracellular amastigotes have also been described, suggesting that these parasites have evolved mechanisms to escape the potentially hazardous antigen-presentation process. To determine whether these events extend to other molecules of the antigen-presentation machinery, we have now studied the fate of the MHC molecule H-2M in mouse macrophages infected with Leishmania amastigotes. At least for certain class II alleles, H-2M is an essential cofactor, which catalyses the release of the invariant chain-derived CLIP peptide from the peptide-binding groove of class II molecules and facilitates the binding of antigenic peptides. H-2M was detected in PV of mouse macrophages infected with various Leishmania species including L. amazonensis, L. mexicana, L. major and L. donovani. PV thus contain all the molecules required for the formation of peptide-class II molecule complexes and especially of complexes with parasite peptides. The present data indicate, however, that if this process occurs, it does not lead to a clear increase of SDS-stable compact (alpha)(beta) dimers of class II. In PV that contained L. amazonensis or L. mexicana, both class II and H-2M molecules often colocalized at the level where amastigotes bind to the PV membrane, suggesting that these molecules are physically associated, directly or indirectly, and possibly interact with parasite components. Furthermore, as class II molecules, H-2M molecules were internalized by amastigotes of these Leishmania species and reached parasite compartments that also contained class II molecules. Immunostaining of H-2M within parasites was increased by treatment of infected macrophages with the cysteine protease inhibitors Z-Phe-AlaCHN2 or Z-Phe-PheCHN2 or by incubation of the parasites with the same inhibitors before infection. These data thus support the idea that amastigotes of certain Leishmania species capture and degrade some of the molecules required for antigen presentation. To examine whether endocytosis of class II molecules by the parasites occurs through interactions with parasite components involving their peptide-binding groove, we made use of the fact that a large fraction of the class II molecules of H-2M(alpha) knock-out H-2(b) mice are occupied by the peptide CLIP and are unable to bind other peptides. We found that, in Leishmania-infected macrophages of these mutant mice, class II-CLIP complexes reached PV and were internalized by amastigotes. These results thus prove that endocytosis of class II molecules by amastigotes (1) is H-2M-independent and (2) does not necessarily involve the peptide-binding pocket of these molecules. Altogether, these data are compatible with an endocytic mechanism based on general properties shared by classical and non-classical class II molecules.

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