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PLoS Med. 2006 May;3(5):e162. Epub 2006 Apr 18.

Unresponsiveness to Glucantime treatment in Iranian cutaneous leishmaniasis due to drug-resistant Leishmania tropica parasites.

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School of Public Health and Institute of Public Health Research, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.



Recent circumstantial evidence suggests that an increasing number of Iranian patients with cutaneous leishmaniasis are unresponsive to meglumine antimoniate (Glucantime), the first line of treatment in Iran. This study was designed to determine whether the clinical responses (healing, or non-healing) were correlated with the susceptibility of Leishmania parasites to Glucantime.


In vitro susceptibility testing was first performed on 185 isolated parasites in the intracellular mouse peritoneal macrophage model. A strong correlation between the clinical outcome and the in vitro effective concentration 50% (EC50) values was observed. Parasites derived from patients with non-healing lesions had EC50 values at least 4-fold higher than parasites derived from lesions of healing patients. A selection of these strains was typed at the molecular level by pulsed-field gels and by sequencing the pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) gene. These techniques indicated that 28 out of 31 selected strains were Leishmania tropica and that three were Leishmania major. The L. major isolates were part of a distinct pulsed-field group, and the L. tropica isolates could be classified in three related additional pulsed-field groups. For each pulsed-field karyotype, we selected sensitive and resistant parasites in which we transfected the firefly luciferase marker to assess further the in vitro susceptibility of field isolates in the monocyte cell line THP1. These determinations confirmed unequivocally that patients with non-healing lesions were infected with L. tropica parasites resistant to Glucantime. Additional characterization of the resistant isolates showed that resistance is stable and can be reversed by buthionine sulfoximine, an inhibitor of glutathione biosynthesis.


To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report of proven resistant parasites contributing to treatment failure for cutaneous leishmaniasis and shows that primary Glucantime-resistant L. tropica field isolates are now frequent in Iran.

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