Surface determinants of Leishmania parasites and their role in infectivity in the mammalian host

Thomas Naderer, James E. Vince, Malcolm J. McConville

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107 Citations (Scopus)


Leishmania are intracellular protozoan parasites that reside primarily in host mononuclear phagocytes. Infection of host macrophages is initiated by infective promastigote stages and perpetuated by an obligate intracellular amastigote stage. Studies undertaken over the last decade have shown that the composition of the complex surface glycocalyx of these stages (comprising lipophosphoglycan, GPI-anchored glycoproteins, proteophosphoglycans and free GPI glycolipids) changes dramatically as promastigotes differentiate into amastigotes. Marked stage-specific changes also occur in the expression of other plasma membrane components, including type-1, polytopic and peripheral membrane proteins, reflecting the distinct microbicidal responses and nutritional environments encountered by these stages. More recently, a number of Leishmania mutants lacking single or multiple surface components have been generated. While some of these mutants are less virulent than wild type parasites, many of these mutants exhibit only mild or no loss of virulence. These studies suggest that, 1) the major surface glycocalyx components of the promastigote stage (i.e. LPG, GPI-anchored proteins) only have a transient or minor role in macrophage invasion, 2) that there is considerable functional redundancy in the surface glycocalyx and/or loss of some components can be compensated for by the acquisition of equivalent host glycolipids, 3) the expression of specific nutrient transporters is essential for life in the macrophage and 4) the role(s) of some surface components differ markedly in different Leishmania species. These mutants will be useful for identifying other surface or intracellular components that are required for virulence in macrophages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-665
Number of pages17
JournalCurrent Molecular Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • GPI
  • Leishmania
  • Lipophosphoglycan
  • Macrophage
  • Surface coat
  • Transporters
  • Virulence factors

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