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Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2004 Feb;133(2):145-52.

Cholesterol is required for Leishmania donovani infection: implications in leishmaniasis.

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  • 1Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India.


Leishmania donovani is an obligate intracellular parasite that infects macrophages of the vertebrate host, resulting in visceral leishmaniasis in humans, which is usually fatal if untreated. The molecular mechanisms involved in host-parasite interaction leading to attachment on the cell surface and subsequent internalization of the parasite are poorly characterized. Cholesterol is a major constituent of eukaryotic membranes and plays a crucial role in cellular membrane organization, dynamics, function, and sorting. It is often found distributed non-randomly in domains in membranes. Recent observations suggest that cholesterol exerts many of its actions by maintaining a specialized type of membrane domain, termed "lipid rafts", in a functional state. Lipid rafts are enriched in cholesterol and sphingolipids, and have been thought to act as platforms through which signal transduction events are coordinated and pathogens gain entry to infect host cells. We report here that cholesterol depletion from macrophage plasma membranes using methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (MbetaCD) results in a significant reduction in the extent of leishmanial infection. Furthermore, the reduction in the ability of the parasite to infect host macrophages can be reversed upon replenishment of cell membrane cholesterol. Interestingly, these effects were not observed when parasites were serum-opsonized, indicating a specific requirement of cholesterol to mediate entry via the non-opsonic pathway. Importantly, we show that entry of Escherichia coli remains unaffected by cholesterol depletion. Our results therefore point to the specific requirement of plasma membrane cholesterol in efficient attachment and internalization of the parasite to macrophage cells leading to a productive infection. More importantly, these results are significant in developing novel therapeutic strategies to tackle leishmaniasis.

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