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PLoS One. 2010 Apr 9;5(4):e10107. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010107.

Quantification of parasite load in clinical samples of leishmaniasis patients: IL-10 level correlates with parasite load in visceral leishmaniasis.

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Institute of Pathology (ICMR), Safdarjung Hospital Campus, New Delhi, India.


A rapid and accurate method to detect and quantify Leishmania parasite is urgently needed to facilitate early diagnosis of leishmaniasis and monitoring of antileishmania therapy. In this study, real-time assay was applied to estimate parasite load in clinical samples of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) and post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) patients. The mean parasite load in blood of VL patients (n = 31) was 8,372 parasites/ml, while the mean parasite load in bone marrow aspirate (BMA) was 194,962 parasites/million nucleated cells (n = 12). Parasite load was undetectable after treatment with amphotericin B (n = 9) in VL, while a residual parasite burden was detected in 2 of 6 patients following treatment with sodium antimony gluconate. Further, circulating levels of IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, IL-10, IL-6, IL-4 and IL-2 were analysed in VL patients (n = 29) by Cytometric Bead Array to evaluate correlation with parasitic load. Interestingly, IL-10 levels correlated significantly with parasite load (r = 0.82, P<0.0001). The mean parasite load in dermal lesions of PKDL patients was 9,502 parasites/microg tissue DNA at pre-treatment stage (n = 25), with no detectable parasites after therapy (n = 5). Parasite burden was distinctly higher (P<0.0001) in nodular lesions (n = 12) (19,586 parasites/microg tissue DNA) compared to papular/macular lesions (n = 13, 193 parasites/microg tissue DNA). Further, chronic PKDL lesions showed significantly (P = 0.0166) higher parasite load in comparison with acute lesions. Results indicate that chronic, nodular cases constitute the major parasite reservoir for anthroponotic transmission. Our results establish that the high parasite load in VL is strongly correlated with a high level of IL-10, implicating IL-10 as a marker of disease severity. The assay is applicable for diagnosis as well as prognosis of both VL and PKDL, providing a simple molecular tool to monitor the efficacy of antileishmanial drugs or vaccines.

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