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1.  Overexpression of the Natural Inhibitor of Cysteine Peptidases in Leishmania mexicana Leads to Reduced Virulence and a Th1 Response▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(7):2971-2978.
Leishmania mexicana cysteine peptidases (CPs) have been identified as important parasite virulence factors. More recently, a natural inhibitor of CPs (ICP) from L. mexicana has been characterized, and ICP mutants have been created. Infection of BALB/c mice with ICP null mutants or ICP reexpressing mutants resulted in nonhealing, progressively growing lesions albeit slightly attenuated compared with the growth of lesions produced by wild-type parasites. In contrast, BALB/c mice infected with mutants overexpressing ICP were able to significantly control lesion growth or heal. While BALB/c mice infected with wild-type parasites, ICP null mutants, or ICP reexpressing mutants produced significant antibody responses, including immunoglobulin E (IgE), no Th1 response, as indicated by antigen-induced splenocyte gamma interferon (IFN-γ) production, could be demonstrated. In contrast, BALB/c mice infected with mutants overexpressing ICP produced significantly less antibody, particularly IgE, as well as significantly reduced splenocyte interleukin-4 and enhanced IFN-γ production. BALB/c mice were able to resolve infection following infection with one ICP overexpressing clone, which was subsequently used for vaccination studies with BALB/c mice. However, no protection was afforded these mice when they were challenged with wild-type parasites. Nevertheless, two other mouse strains susceptible to L. mexicana, C3H and C57BL/6, vaccinated with overexpressing ICP mutants were able to control challenge infection associated with an enhanced Th1 response. This study confirms that L. mexicana CPs are virulence factors and that ICPs have therapeutic potential.
PMCID: PMC2708542  PMID: 19433541
2.  A potential role for ICP, a leishmanial inhibitor of cysteine peptidases, in the interaction between host and parasite 
Molecular microbiology  2004;54(5):1224-1236.
The biological role of a natural inhibitor of cysteine peptidases (designated ICP) of Leishmania has been investigated by genetic manipulation of the parasite. Null mutants grew normally in vitro, were as infective to macrophages in vitro as wild-type parasites, but had reduced infectivity to mice. Mutants re-expressing ICP from a single gene gave partial restoration of virulence in vivo, whereas mutants over-expressing ICP secreted the inhibitor and showed markedly reduced virulence in mice. Promastigotes of the null mutants had similar cysteine peptidase activities as the wild-type parasites, suggesting that ICP is not required for the expression or processing of the enzymes. The only proteins found to bind to ICP in promastigote cell lysates were fully processed forms of CPA and CPB, showing that ICP does not bind in abundance either to zymogens of the cysteine peptidases or other leishmanial proteins. However, only a small proportion of ICP co-localised with CPA and CPB in the promastigote (in the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi) and the majority of ICP resided in vesicles that are apparently distinct from endosomes and the multivesicular tubule (MVT)-lysosome. These data suggest that ICP has a role other than modulation of the activity of the parasite's own cysteine peptidases and their normal trafficking to the MVT-lysosome via the flagellar pocket. The finding that ICP partially co-localised with an endocytosed cysteine peptidase leads us to postulate that ICP has a role in protection of the parasite against the hydrolytic environment of the sandfly gut and/or the parasitophorous vacuole of host macrophages.
PMCID: PMC2244714  PMID: 15554964
cysteine peptidase inhibitor; ICP; chagasin; lysosomes; endosomes; Leishmania
The Journal of biological chemistry  2005;281(9):5821-5828.
Clan CA, family C1 cysteine peptidases (CPs) are important virulence factors and drug targets in parasites that cause neglected diseases. Natural CP inhibitors of the I42 family, known as ICP, occur in some protozoa and bacterial pathogens, but are absent from metazoa. They are active against both parasite and mammalian CPs, despite having no sequence similarity with other classes of CP inhibitor. Recent data suggest that L. mexicana ICP plays an important role in host-parasite interactions. We have now solved the structure of ICP from L. mexicanaby NMR and shown that it adopts a type of immunoglobulin-like fold not previously reported in lower eukaryotes or bacteria. The structure places three loops containing highly conserved residues at one end of the molecule, one loop being highly mobile. Interaction studies with CPs confirm the importance of these loops for the interaction between ICP and CPs and suggest the mechanism of inhibition. Structure-guided mutagenesis of ICP has revealed that residues in the mobile loop are critical for CP inhibition. Data-driven docking models support the importance of the loops in the ICP-CP interaction. This study provides structural evidence for the convergent evolution from an immunoglobulin fold of CP inhibitors with a cystatin-like mechanism.
PMCID: PMC1473161  PMID: 16407198
4.  Cathepsin-L Can Resist Lysis by Human Serum in Trypanosoma brucei brucei 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004130.
Closely related African trypanosomes cause lethal diseases but display distinct host ranges. Specifically, Trypanosoma brucei brucei causes nagana in livestock but fails to infect humans, while Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense cause sleeping sickness in humans. T. b. brucei fails to infect humans because it is sensitive to innate immune complexes found in normal human serum known as trypanolytic factor (TLF) 1 and 2; the lytic component is apolipoprotein-L1 in both TLFs. TLF resistance mechanisms of T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense are now known to arise through either gain or loss-of-function, but our understanding of factors that render T. b. brucei susceptible to lysis by human serum remains incomplete. We conducted a genome-scale RNA interference (RNAi) library screen for reduced sensitivity to human serum. Among only four high-confidence ‘hits’ were all three genes previously shown to sensitize T. b. brucei to human serum, the haptoglobin-haemoglobin receptor (HpHbR), inhibitor of cysteine peptidase (ICP) and the lysosomal protein, p67, thereby demonstrating the pivotal roles these factors play. The fourth gene identified encodes a predicted protein with eleven trans-membrane domains. Using chemical and genetic approaches, we show that ICP sensitizes T. b. brucei to human serum by modulating the essential cathepsin, CATL, a lysosomal cysteine peptidase. A second cathepsin, CATB, likely to be dispensable for growth in in vitro culture, has little or no impact on human-serum sensitivity. Our findings reveal major and novel determinants of human-serum sensitivity in T. b. brucei. They also shed light on the lysosomal protein-protein interactions that render T. b. brucei exquisitely sensitive to lytic factors in human serum, and indicate that CATL, an important potential drug target, has the capacity to resist these factors.
Author Summary
The interplay among host innate immunity and resistance mechanisms in African trypanosomes has a major impact on the host range of these tsetse-fly transmitted parasites, defining their ability to cause disease in humans. A genome-scale RNAi screen identified a highly restricted set of four genes that sensitise trypanosomes to human serum: those encoding the haptoglobin-haemoglobin receptor, a predicted trans-membrane channel, a lysosomal membrane-protein and the cysteine peptidase inhibitor. An analysis of the cysteine peptidases revealed cathepsin-L as the protease regulated by the inhibitor – and with the capacity to render the parasite resistant to lysis by human serum. These findings emphasise the importance of parasite factors for the delivery and stability of host toxins. They also shed light on the control of proteolysis by parasites and potential unanticipated consequences of therapies that target the parasite proteases.
PMCID: PMC4022737  PMID: 24830321
5.  Leishmania mexicana promastigotes inhibit macrophage IL-12 production via TLR-4 dependent COX-2, iNOS and arginase-1 expression 
Molecular Immunology  2011;48(15-16):1800-1808.
► TLR-4 activation by Leishmania mexicana promastigotes and CPB-deficient amastigotes. ► Prolonged, TLR-4 dependent iNOS and COX-2 expression by L. mexicana promastigotes. ► Enhanced TLR-4 dependent-arginase-1 expression. ► Regulation of IL-12 induction by an arginase-1 dependent mechanism.
The effects of Leishmania mexicana metacyclic promastigotes upon MAP kinase signalling in mouse bone marrow macrophages and subsequent expression of the disease regulatory proteins iNOS and COX-2 were studied. At a ratio of 5:1, promastigotes caused a marked increase in phosphorylation of the three major MAP kinases, ERK, p38 and JNK. MAP kinase signalling was substantially reduced in TLR-4−/− but not TLR-2−/− deficient macrophages and completely abolished in double TLR-2/4−/− macrophages. A similar outcome was observed using cysteine peptidase B deficient amastigotes. Furthermore, whilst promastigotes had no independent effect on iNOS or COX-2 expression, they prolonged the induction of these proteins stimulated by LPS and enhanced PGE2 and NO production. Induction of COX-2 and iNOS was also TLR-4 dependent. Blockade of either PGE2 or NO production with indomethacin or l-NAME reversed promastigote inhibition of LPS induced IL-12 production. Promastigotes also increased macrophage arginase-1 expression and enhanced arginase activity, both of which were substantially reduced in TLR-4 but not TLR-2 deficient macrophages. Surprisingly, arginase inhibition by Nor-NOHA also caused a reversal of promastigote mediated inhibition of macrophage IL-12 production. These data demonstrate for the first time the role of TLR-4 in mediating the effects of L. mexicana promastigotes on MAP kinase activation, up-regulation of COX-2, iNOS as well as arginase-1 expression in macrophages and further shows that PGE2, NO and arginase activity all contribute substantially to the inhibition of host cell IL-12 production.
PMCID: PMC3173610  PMID: 21664694
Leishmania mexicana; Promastigotes; TLR-4; MAP kinase; Arginase-1; IL-12
6.  Identification of Semicarbazones, Thiosemicarbazones and Triazine Nitriles as Inhibitors of Leishmania mexicana Cysteine Protease CPB 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77460.
Cysteine proteases of the papain superfamily are present in nearly all eukaryotes. They play pivotal roles in the biology of parasites and inhibition of cysteine proteases is emerging as an important strategy to combat parasitic diseases such as sleeping sickness, Chagas’ disease and leishmaniasis. Homology modeling of the mature Leishmania mexicana cysteine protease CPB2.8 suggested that it differs significantly from bovine cathepsin B and thus could be a good drug target. High throughput screening of a compound library against this enzyme and bovine cathepsin B in a counter assay identified four novel inhibitors, containing the warhead-types semicarbazone, thiosemicarbazone and triazine nitrile, that can be used as leads for antiparasite drug design. Covalent docking experiments confirmed the SARs of these lead compounds in an effort to understand the structural elements required for specific inhibition of CPB2.8. This study has provided starting points for the design of selective and highly potent inhibitors of L. mexicana cysteine protease CPB that may also have useful efficacy against other important cysteine proteases.
PMCID: PMC3797739  PMID: 24146999
7.  Surface Zn-proteinase as a molecule for defense of Leishmania mexicana amazonensis promastigotes against cytolysis inside macrophage phagolysosomes. 
Infection and Immunity  1996;64(12):5129-5137.
The role of the surface membrane Zn-proteinase in protecting the cellular integrity of the macrophage parasite Leishmania mexicana amazonensis from intraphagolysosomal cytolysis was studied. These cells lose their infectivity to host macrophages after prolonged cultivation in axenic growth medium. The virulent and attenuated variants of the parasite cells were cloned. Failure of these attenuated parasite cells to survive inside macrophage phagolysosomes is associated with 20- to 50-fold reduction in the expression of surface gp63 protein. In situ inhibition of gp63 proteinase activity inside Leishmania-infected macrophage phagolysosomes with targeted delivery of an inhibitor of gp63 proteinase activity, 1,10-phenanthroline, selectively eliminated intracellular Leishmania amastigotes, further suggesting the importance of this proteinase in phagolysosomal survival of the parasite. An upstream sequence (US) of the gp63 gene was cloned in front of the bacterial chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene in plasmid pCATbasic. Transfection of L. mexicana amazonensis cells with this recombinant plasmid showed that expression of the CAT gene from this US is 15- to 20-fold higher in virulent clones than in avirulent clones of the parasite. Band shift analysis with the cloned US also showed that binding of protein(s) was 15- to 20-fold higher in virulent cell extract than in avirulent cell extract. Coating of attenuated cells or liposomes with proteolytically active gp63 protects them from degradation inside macrophage phagolysosomes. These results suggest a novel mechanism of survival of this phagolysosomal parasite with the help of its surface Zn-proteinase.
PMCID: PMC174498  PMID: 8945556
8.  HIV Aspartyl Peptidase Inhibitors Interfere with Cellular Proliferation, Ultrastructure and Macrophage Infection of Leishmania amazonensis 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4918.
Leishmania is the etiologic agent of leishmanisais, a protozoan disease whose pathogenic events are not well understood. Current therapy is suboptimal due to toxicity of the available therapeutic agents and the emergence of drug resistance. Compounding these problems is the increase in the number of cases of Leishmania-HIV coinfection, due to the overlap between the AIDS epidemic and leishmaniasis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In the present report, we have investigated the effect of HIV aspartyl peptidase inhibitors (PIs) on the Leishmania amazonensis proliferation, ultrastructure, interaction with macrophage cells and expression of classical peptidases which are directly involved in the Leishmania pathogenesis. All the HIV PIs impaired parasite growth in a dose-dependent fashion, especially nelfinavir and lopinavir. HIV PIs treatment caused profound changes in the leishmania ultrastructure as shown by transmission electron microscopy, including cytoplasm shrinking, increase in the number of lipid inclusions and some cells presenting the nucleus closely wrapped by endoplasmic reticulum resembling an autophagic process, as well as chromatin condensation which is suggestive of apoptotic death. The hydrolysis of HIV peptidase substrate by L. amazonensis extract was inhibited by pepstatin and HIV PIs, suggesting that an aspartyl peptidase may be the intracellular target of the inhibitors. The treatment with HIV PIs of either the promastigote forms preceding the interaction with macrophage cells or the amastigote forms inside macrophages drastically reduced the association indexes. Despite all these beneficial effects, the HIV PIs induced an increase in the expression of cysteine peptidase b (cpb) and the metallopeptidase gp63, two well-known virulence factors expressed by Leishmania spp.
In the face of leishmaniasis/HIV overlap, it is critical to further comprehend the sophisticated interplays among Leishmania, HIV and macrophages. In addition, there are many unresolved questions related to the management of Leishmania-HIV-coinfected patients. For instance, the efficacy of therapy aimed at controlling each pathogen in coinfected individuals remains largely undefined. The results presented herein add new in vitro insight into the wide spectrum efficacy of HIV PIs and suggest that additional studies about the synergistic effects of classical antileishmanial compounds and HIV PIs in macrophages coinfected with Leishmania and HIV-1 should be performed.
PMCID: PMC2656615  PMID: 19325703
9.  Leishmania mexicana metacaspase is a negative regulator of amastigote proliferation in mammalian cells 
Cell Death & Disease  2012;3(9):e385-.
Metacaspases (MCAs) are caspase family cysteine peptidases that have been implicated in cell death processes in plants, fungi and protozoa. MCAs have also been suggested to be involved in cell cycle control, differentiation and clearance of aggregates; they are virulence factors. Dissecting the function of MCAs has been complicated by the presence in many organisms of multiple MCA genes or limitations on genetic manipulation. We describe here the creation of a MCA gene-deletion mutant (Δmca) in the protozoan parasite Leishmania mexicana, which has allowed us to dissect the role of the parasite's single MCA gene in cell growth and cell death. Δmca parasites are viable as promastigotes, and differentiate normally to the amastigote form both in in vitro macrophages infection and in mice. Δmca promastigotes respond to cell death inducers such as the drug miltefosine and H2O2 similarly to wild-type (WT) promastigotes, suggesting that MCAs do not have a caspase-like role in execution of L. mexicana cell death. Δmca amastigotes replicated significantly faster than WT amastigotes in macrophages and in mice, but not as axenic culture in vitro. We propose that the Leishmania MCA acts as a negative regulator of amastigote proliferation, thereby acting to balance cell growth and cell death.
PMCID: PMC3461358  PMID: 22951982
metacaspase; caspase; cysteine peptidase; programmed cell death
10.  Studies on the CPA cysteine peptidase in the Leishmania infantum genome strain JPCM5 
Visceral leishmaniasis caused by members of the Leishmania donovani complex is often fatal in the absence of treatment. Research has been hampered by the lack of good laboratory models and tools for genetic manipulation. In this study, we have characterised a L. infantum line (JPCM5) that was isolated from a naturally infected dog and then cloned. We found that JPCM5 has attributes that make it an excellent laboratory model; different stages of the parasite life cycle can be studied in vitro, it is accessible to genetic manipulation and it has retained its virulence. Furthermore, the L. infantum JPCM5 genome has now been fully sequenced.
We have further focused our studies on LiCPA, the L. infantum homologue to L. mexicana cysteine peptidase CPA. LiCPA was found to share a high percentage of amino acid identity with CPA proteins of other Leishmania species. Two independent LiCPA-deficient promastigote clones (ΔLicpa) were generated and their phenotype characterised. In contrast to L. mexicana CPA-deficient mutants, both clones of ΔLicpa were found to have significantly reduced virulence in vitro and in vivo. Re-expression of just one LiCPA allele (giving ΔLicpa::CPA) was sufficient to complement the reduced infectivity of both ΔLicpa mutants for human macrophages, which confirms the importance of LiCPA for L. infantum virulence. In contrast, in vivo experiments did not show any virulence recovery of the re-expressor clone ΔLicpaC1::CPA compared with the CPA-deficient mutant ΔLicpaC1.
The data suggest that CPA is not essential for replication of L. infantum promastigotes, but is important for the host-parasite interaction. Further studies will be necessary to elucidate the precise roles that LiCPA plays and why the re-expression of LiCPA in the ΔLicpa mutants complemented the gene deletion phenotype only in in vitro and not in in vivo infection of hamsters.
PMCID: PMC1657026  PMID: 17101050
11.  Comparative in-silico genome analysis of Leishmania (Leishmania) donovani: A step towards its species specificity 
Meta Gene  2014;2:782-798.
Comparative genome analysis of recently sequenced Leishmania (L.) donovani was unexplored so far. The present study deals with the complete scanning of L. (L.) donovani genome revealing its interspecies variations. 60 distinctly present genes in L. (L.) donovani were identified when the whole genome was compared with Leishmania (L.) infantum. Similarly 72, 159, and 265 species specific genes were identified in L. (L.) donovani when compared to Leishmania (L.) major, Leishmania (L.) mexicana and Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis respectively. The cross comparison of L. (L.) donovani in parallel with the other sequenced species of leishmanial led to the identification of 55 genes which are highly specific and expressed exclusively in L. (L.) donovani. We found mainly the discrepancies of surface proteins such as amastins, proteases, and peptidases. Also 415 repeat containing proteins in L. (L.) donovani and their differential distribution in other leishmanial species were identified which might have a potential role during pathogenesis. The genes identified can be evaluated as drug targets for anti-leishmanial treatment, exploring the scope for extensive future investigations.
•Comparative genome analysis identifies 55 species specific L. (L.) donovani genes.•Discrepancies of surface proteins such as amastins, proteases, and peptidases are identified in L. (L.) donovani.•Apical Membrane Antigen (AMA1) might be a novel factor which helps L. (L.) donovani invasion.•Novel A2 and amastin genes in L. (L.) donovani genome are identified.•Our study identifies differential gene distribution in L. (L.) donovani with respect to other leishmanial species.
PMCID: PMC4287845  PMID: 25606461
Visceral leishmaniasis; Apical Membrane Antigen 1; A2 gene family; Amastin; Species specific genes
12.  Inhibitor of Cysteine Proteases Is Critical for Motility and Infectivity of Plasmodium Sporozoites 
mBio  2013;4(6):e00874-13.
Malaria is transmitted when motile sporozoites are injected into the dermis by an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Inside the mosquito vector, sporozoites egress from midgut-associated oocysts and eventually penetrate the acinar cells of salivary glands. Parasite-encoded factors with exclusive vital roles in the insect vector can be studied by classical reverse genetics. Here, we characterized the in vivo roles of Plasmodium berghei falstatin/ICP (inhibitor of cysteine proteases). This protein was previously suggested to act as a protease inhibitor during erythrocyte invasion. We show by targeted gene disruption that loss of ICP function does not affect growth inside the mammalian host but causes a complete defect in sporozoite transmission. Sporogony occurred normally in icp(−) parasites, but hemocoel sporozoites showed a defect in continuous gliding motility and infectivity for salivary glands, which are prerequisites for sporozoite transmission to the mammalian host. Absence of ICP correlates with enhanced cleavage of circumsporozoite protein, in agreement with a role as a protease regulator. We conclude that ICP is essential for only the final stages of sporozoite maturation inside the mosquito vector. This study is the first genetic evidence that an ICP is necessary for the productive motility of a eukaryotic parasitic cell.
Cysteine proteases and their inhibitors are considered ideal drug targets for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including cancer and parasitic infections. In protozoan parasites, including Leishmania, Trypanosoma, and Plasmodium, cysteine proteases play important roles in life cycle progression. A mouse malaria model provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the roles of a parasite-encoded inhibitor of cysteine proteases (ICP) over the entire parasite life cycle. By precise gene deletion, we found no evidence that ICP influences disease progression or parasite virulence. Instead, we discovered that this factor is necessary for parasite movement and malaria transmission from mosquitoes to mammals. This finding in a fast-moving unicellular protozoan has important implications for malaria intervention strategies and the roles of ICPs in the regulation of eukaryotic cell migration.
PMCID: PMC3870247  PMID: 24281719
13.  Disease Severity in Patients Infected with Leishmania mexicana Relates to IL-1β 
Leishmania mexicana can cause both localized (LCL) and diffuse (DCL) cutaneous leishmaniasis, yet little is known about factors regulating disease severity in these patients. We analyzed if the disease was associated with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in IL-1β (−511), CXCL8 (−251) and/or the inhibitor IL-1RA (+2018) in 58 Mexican mestizo patients with LCL, 6 with DCL and 123 control cases. Additionally, we analyzed the in vitro production of IL-1β by monocytes, the expression of this cytokine in sera of these patients, as well as the tissue distribution of IL-1β and the number of parasites in lesions of LCL and DCL patients. Our results show a significant difference in the distribution of IL-1β (−511 C/T) genotypes between patients and controls (heterozygous OR), with respect to the reference group CC, which was estimated with a value of 3.23, 95% CI = (1.2, 8.7) and p-value = 0.0167), indicating that IL-1β (−511 C/T) represents a variable influencing the risk to develop the disease in patients infected with Leishmania mexicana. Additionally, an increased in vitro production of IL-1β by monocytes and an increased serum expression of the cytokine correlated with the severity of the disease, since it was significantly higher in DCL patients heavily infected with Leishmania mexicana. The distribution of IL-1β in lesions also varied according to the number of parasites harbored in the tissues: in heavily infected LCL patients and in all DCL patients, the cytokine was scattered diffusely throughout the lesion. In contrast, in LCL patients with lower numbers of parasites in the lesions, IL-1β was confined to the cells. These data suggest that IL-1β possibly is a key player determining the severity of the disease in DCL patients. The analysis of polymorphisms in CXCL8 and IL-1RA showed no differences between patients with different disease severities or between patients and controls.
Author Summary
Leishmania mexicana is an intracellular parasite that causes two polarly opposed diseases: One is a self-limited disease, characterized by ulcerative lesions associated with a low infectious load, as found in patients with localized cutaneous leishmaniasis (LCL). And the other pole is characterized by a progressive disease where abundant parasites spread uncontrollably throughout the skin inside heavily infected phagocytic cells, as occurs in patients with diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis (DCL). The cause of this severe form of the disease is unknown, although the early encounter between the parasite and the inflammatory response of the host possibly plays a decisive role in the disease outcome. We here show that polymorphism in the gene encoding IL-1β (−511 C/T) represents a variable influencing the risk to develop the disease for patients infected with Leishmania mexicana. In vitro experiments showed that monocytes of DCL patients secreted significantly higher levels of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-1β as compared to LCL patients. DCL patients also had augmented levels of IL-1β in serum, and the cytokine was diffusely distributed throughout lesions, which was correlated with the numbers of parasites in the lesions. We propose that IL-1β possibly plays a key role in establishing the disease severity in patients infected with Leishmania mexicana.
PMCID: PMC3358333  PMID: 22629474
14.  MAP Kinase Phosphatase-2 Plays a Critical Role in Response to Infection by Leishmania mexicana 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001192.
In this study we generated a novel dual specific phosphatase 4 (DUSP4) deletion mouse using a targeted deletion strategy in order to examine the role of MAP kinase phosphatase-2 (MKP-2) in immune responses. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced a rapid, time and concentration-dependent increase in MKP-2 protein expression in bone marrow-derived macrophages from MKP-2+/+ but not from MKP-2−/− mice. LPS-induced JNK and p38 MAP kinase phosphorylation was significantly increased and prolonged in MKP-2−/− macrophages whilst ERK phosphorylation was unaffected. MKP-2 deletion also potentiated LPS-stimulated induction of the inflammatory cytokines, IL-6, IL-12p40, TNF-α, and also COX-2 derived PGE2 production. However surprisingly, in MKP-2−/− macrophages, there was a marked reduction in LPS or IFNγ-induced iNOS and nitric oxide release and enhanced basal expression of arginase-1, suggesting that MKP-2 may have an additional regulatory function significant in pathogen-mediated immunity. Indeed, following infection with the intracellular parasite Leishmania mexicana, MKP-2−/− mice displayed increased lesion size and parasite burden, and a significantly modified Th1/Th2 bias compared with wild-type counterparts. However, there was no intrinsic defect in MKP-2−/− T cell function as measured by anti-CD3 induced IFN-γ production. Rather, MKP-2−/− bone marrow-derived macrophages were found to be inherently more susceptible to infection with Leishmania mexicana, an effect reversed following treatment with the arginase inhibitor nor-NOHA. These findings show for the first time a role for MKP-2 in vivo and demonstrate that MKP-2 may be essential in orchestrating protection against intracellular infection at the level of the macrophage.
Author Summary
In cells of the immune system are switch-on enzymes called kinases which regulate responses to infectious agents such as Leishmania. However, in the same cells there are switch-off enzymes known as phosphatases which function to turn off the kinases once they have done their work. A lot of studies have focussed on the role of kinases but not phosphatases in response to infection; we therefore generated a novel mouse in which the gene for one of these phosphatases, called MKP-2, has been deleted. We found that in the absence of this phosphatase unexpected things happened. The profile of inflammatory proteins, produced by a special cell of the immune system, called a macrophage, that functions to regulate infection by Leishmania, changed in ways which meant the macrophage could either fight infection very effectively or very weakly. In actual fact, we found that the macrophages with no MKP-2 fought off Leishmania poorly and mice deficient in MKP-2 had a modified immune response favouring the growth of the parasite. This is the first study to give critical insight into the role of MKP-2 in fighting Leishmania infection and demonstrates very well the importance of this class of enzyme in pathogen biology.
PMCID: PMC2978729  PMID: 21085614
15.  Nelfinavir is effective in inhibiting the multiplication and aspartic peptidase activity of Leishmania species, including strains obtained from HIV-positive patients 
There is a general lack of effective and non-toxic chemotherapeutic agents for leishmaniasis and there is as yet no study about the effect of HIV peptidase inhibitors (HIV PIs) on Leishmania/HIV-coinfected patients. In the present work, we performed a comparative analysis of the spectrum of action of HIV PIs on different Leishmania spp., including strains obtained from HIV-positive patients receiving or not receiving antiretroviral treatment.
The effects of nelfinavir and saquinavir on Leishmania proliferation were assessed by means of a colorimetric assay (MTT). Subsequently, the effect of nelfinavir on aspartic peptidase activity from Leishmania spp. was assessed by following the degradation of the fluorogenic substrate MCA-G-K-P-I-L-F-F-R-L-K-DNP-Arg-NH2.
Nelfinavir was capable of significantly reducing the multiplication of many Leishmania reference strains and isolates obtained from HIV-positive patients receiving or not receiving antiretroviral treatment. Leishmania major growth was inhibited by ∼50%, while all other flagellates were strongly inhibited (at least 94%), except for a Leishmania chagasi strain obtained from an HIV-positive patient under treatment with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Culture of this isolate in the presence of nelfinavir induced a considerable reduction in the aspartic peptidase activity. In addition, nelfinavir was also capable of inhibiting the aspartic peptidase activity of all Leishmania strains tested.
The present data contribute to the study of the effect of HIV PIs on Leishmania infection and add new insights into the possibility of exploiting aspartic peptidases as promising targets in order to generate novel medications to treat leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC3543121  PMID: 23109184
aspartyl peptidases; Leishmania/HIV coinfection; HIV peptidase inhibitors; chemotherapy; leishmaniasis; proteases
16.  CD8 Cells of Patients with Diffuse Cutaneous Leishmaniasis Display Functional Exhaustion: The Latter Is Reversed, In Vitro, by TLR2 Agonists 
Leishmania mexicana (Lm) causes localized (LCL) and diffuse (DCL) cutaneous leishmaniasis. DCL patients have a poor cellular immune response leading to chronicity. It has been proposed that CD8 T lymphocytes (CD8) play a crucial role in infection clearance, although the role of CD8 cytotoxicity in disease control has not been elucidated. Lesions of DCL patients have been shown to harbor low numbers of CD8, as compared to patients with LCL, and leishmanicidal treatment restores CD8 numbers. The marked response of CD8 towards Leishmania parasites led us to analyze possible functional differences between CD8 from patients with LCL and DCL. We compared IFNγ production, antigen-specific proliferation, and cytotoxicity of CD8 purified from PBMC against autologous macrophages (MO) infected with Leishmania mexicana (MOi). Additionally, we analyzed tissue biopsies from both groups of patients for evidence of cytotoxicity associated with apoptotic cells in the lesions. We found that CD8 cell of DCL patients exhibited low cytotoxicity, low antigen-specific proliferation and low IFNγ production when stimulated with MOi, as compared to LCL patients. Additionally, DCL patients had significantly less TUNEL+ cells in their lesions. These characteristics are similar to cellular “exhaustion” described in chronic infections. We intended to restore the functional capacity of CD8 cells of DCL patients by preincubating them with TLR2 agonists: Lm lipophosphoglycan (LPG) or Pam3Cys. Cytotoxicity against MOi, antigen-specific proliferation and IFNγ production were restored with both stimuli, whereas PD-1 (a molecule associated with cellular exhaustion) expression, was reduced. Our work suggests that CD8 response is associated with control of Lm infection in LCL patients and that chronic infection in DCL patients leads to a state of CD8 functional exhaustion, which could facilitate disease spread. This is the first report that shows the presence of functionally exhausted CD8 T lymphocytes in DCL patients and, additionally, that pre-stimulation with TLR2 ligands can restore the effector mechanisms of CD8 T lymphocytes from DCL patients against Leishmania mexicana-infected macrophages.
Author Summary
Leishmania mexicana causes localized and diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis. Whereas the former is a benign form the disease, diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis is a chronic disfiguring disease, for which no cure is available, and the immune cells of these patients respond poorly to the parasite. It has been proposed that the elimination of Leishmania-infected cells by CD8 T cells is crucial for disease control. We compared the functional characteristics of CD8 T cells from patients with localized and diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis. We found that CD8 T cells from patients with diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis were functionally exhausted, as compared to patients with the benign form of the disease. We were able to restore functional capacity of these cells by culturing them with molecules that stimulate TLR2. This is the first report showing that stimulation of the TLR2 can restore effector mechanisms in functionally exhausted CD8 cells from patients with diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis. This finding will help design novel treatment schemes for patients infected with the parasite Leishmania mexicana who have the progressive, incurable form of diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC2970528  PMID: 21072232
17.  Cathepsin B-like and cell death in the unicellular human pathogen Leishmania 
Cell Death & Disease  2010;1(9):e71-.
In several studies reporting cell death (CD) in lower eukaryotes and in the human protozoan parasite Leishmania, proteolytic activity was revealed using pan-caspase substrates or inhibitors such as carbobenzoxy-valyl-alanyl-aspartyl-[O-methyl]-fluoromethylketone (Z-VAD-FMK). However, most of the lower eukaryotes do not encode caspase(s) but MCA, which differs from caspase(s) in its substrate specificity and cannot be accountable for the recognition of Z-VAD-FMK. In the present study, we were interested in identifying which enzyme was capturing the Z-VAD substrate. We show that heat shock (HS) induces Leishmania CD and leads to the intracellular binding of Z-VAD-FMK. We excluded binding and inhibition of Z-VAD-FMK to Leishmania major metacaspase (LmjMCA), and identified cysteine proteinase C (LmjCPC), a cathepsin B-like (CPC) enzyme, as the Z-VAD-FMK binding enzyme. We confirmed the specific interaction of Z-VAD-FMK with CPC by showing that Z-VAD binding is absent in a Leishmania mexicana strain in which the cpc gene was deleted. We also show that parasites exposed to various stress conditions release CPC into a soluble fraction. Finally, we confirmed the role of CPC in Leishmania CD by showing that, when exposed to the oxidizing agent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), cpc knockout parasites survived better than wild-type parasites (WT). In conclusion, this study identified CPC as the substrate of Z-VAD-FMK in Leishmania and as a potential additional executioner protease in the CD cascade of Leishmania and possibly in other lower eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC3032344  PMID: 21364675
cysteine peptidase; cathepsin B; biotin-VAD-FMK; Leishmania; trypanosomes; unicellular organisms
18.  Role of the Trypanosoma brucei natural cysteine peptidase inhibitor ICP in differentiation and virulence 
Molecular Microbiology  2007;66(4):991-1002.
ICP is a chagasin-family natural tight binding inhibitor of Clan CA, family C1 cysteine peptidases (CPs). We investigated the role of ICP in Trypanosoma brucei by generating bloodstream form ICP-deficient mutants (Δicp). A threefold increase in CP activity was detected in lysates of Δicp, which was restored to the levels in wild type parasites by re-expression of the gene in the null mutant. Δicp displayed slower growth in culture and increased resistance to a trypanocidal synthetic CP inhibitor. More efficient exchange of the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) to procyclin during differentiation from bloodstream to procyclic form was observed in Δicp, a phenotype that was reversed in the presence of synthetic CP inhibitors. Furthermore, we showed that degradation of anti-VSG IgG is abolished when parasites are pretreated with synthetic CP inhibitors, and that parasites lacking ICP degrade IgG more efficiently than wild type. In addition, Δicp reached higher parasitemia than wild type parasites in infected mice, suggesting that ICP modulates parasite infectivity. Taken together, these data suggest that CPs of T. brucei bloodstream form play a role in surface coat exchange during differentiation, in the degradation of internalized IgG and in parasite infectivity, and that their function is regulated by ICP.
PMCID: PMC2680270  PMID: 17944830
19.  Leishmania mexicana Induces Limited Recruitment and Activation of Monocytes and Monocyte-Derived Dendritic Cells Early during Infection 
While C57BL/6 mice infected in the ear with L. major mount a vigorous Th1 response and resolve their lesions, the Th1 response in C57BL/6 mice infected with L. mexicana is more limited, resulting in chronic, non-healing lesions. The aim of this study was to determine if the limited immune response following infection with L. mexicana is related to a deficiency in the ability of monocyte-derived dendritic cells (mo-DCs) to prime a sufficient Th1 response. To address this issue we compared the early immune response following L. mexicana infection with that seen in L. major infected mice. Our data show that fewer monocytes are recruited to the lesions of L. mexicana infected mice as compared to mice infected with L. major. Moreover, monocytes that differentiate into mo-DCs in L. mexicana lesions produced less iNOS and migrated less efficiently to the draining lymph node as compared to those from L. major infected mice. Treatment of L. mexicana infected mice with α-IL-10R antibody resulted in increased recruitment of monocytes to the lesion along with greater production of IFN-γ and iNOS. Additionally, injection of DCs into the ear at the time of infection with L. mexicana also led to a more robust Th1 response. Taken together, these data suggest that during L. mexicana infection reduced recruitment, activation and subsequent migration of monocytes and mo-DCs to the draining lymph nodes may result in the insufficient priming of a Th1 response.
Author Summary
Leishmaniasis, caused by protozoan parasites belonging to the genus, Leishmania, exhibits clinical symptoms ranging from mild cutaneous lesions to more severe cutaneous or visceral disease. Here, we focus on L. major and L. mexicana, two species that lead to self-resolving and chronic cutaneous lesions, respectively. A strong Th1 response is necessary for resolution of disease following L. major infection. However, L. mexicana infection induces a limited Th1 response resulting in chronic disease. Monocyte-derived dendritic cells are believed to be important in priming the Th1 response during L. major infection, and therefore in this study we evaluated whether there are quantitative and/or qualitative differences in monocyte-derived dendritic cells following L. mexicana infection. We found that fewer monocytes were recruited to the lesions of L. mexicana infected mice as compared to mice infected with L. major. In addition, there were fewer iNOS producing monocyte-derived dendritic cells in the lesions of L. mexicana infected mice and less migration of monocyte-derived dendritic cells to the draining lymph node. Manipulations that allow for increased monocytes in the lesions of L. mexicana infected mice also resulted in a more robust Th1 response. Thus, these findings provide a mechanistic basis for the limited Th1 response observed during L. mexicana infection and also offer a better understanding of the important role that monocytes play during infection with Leishmania.
PMCID: PMC3475671  PMID: 23094119
20.  Leishmania (L.) mexicana Infected Bats in Mexico: Novel Potential Reservoirs 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(1):e0003438.
Leishmania (Leishmania) mexicana causes cutaneous leishmaniasis, an endemic zoonosis affecting a growing number of patients in the southeastern states of Mexico. Some foci are found in shade-grown cocoa and coffee plantations, or near perennial forests that provide rich breeding grounds for the sand fly vectors, but also harbor a variety of bat species that live off the abundant fruits provided by these shade-giving trees. The close proximity between sand flies and bats makes their interaction feasible, yet bats infected with Leishmania (L.) mexicana have not been reported. Here we analyzed 420 bats from six states of Mexico that had reported patients with leishmaniasis. Tissues of bats, including skin, heart, liver and/or spleen were screened by PCR for Leishmania (L.) mexicana DNA. We found that 41 bats (9.77%), belonging to 13 species, showed positive PCR results in various tissues. The infected tissues showed no evidence of macroscopic lesions. Of the infected bats, 12 species were frugivorous, insectivorous or nectarivorous, and only one species was sanguivorous (Desmodus rotundus), and most of them belonged to the family Phyllostomidae. The eco-region where most of the infected bats were caught is the Gulf Coastal Plain of Chiapas and Tabasco. Through experimental infections of two Tadarida brasiliensis bats in captivity, we show that this species can harbor viable, infective Leishmania (L.) mexicana parasites that are capable of infecting BALB/c mice. We conclude that various species of bats belonging to the family Phyllostomidae are possible reservoir hosts for Leishmania (L.) mexicana, if it can be shown that such bats are infective for the sand fly vector. Further studies are needed to determine how these bats become infected, how long the parasite remains viable inside these potential hosts and whether they are infective to sand flies to fully evaluate their impact on disease epidemiology.
Author Summary
Leishmaniasis is endemic in southeastern Mexico, where Leishmania (L.) mexicana is the principle parasite species causing disease in humans. Previous studies using methodology for inferring potential biotic interactions between species had shown a high prevalence of bat species as potential hosts for Leishmania, yet bats have not been identified as hosts in Mexico. Motivated by these predictions, we currently analyze whether bats are infected with Leishmania (L.) mexicana and to what extent they serve as hosts for this parasite. We analyzed 420 bats from six states, and through PCR analysis of skin, heart, liver and/or spleen we found that 41 bats (9.77%) of 13 different bat species were infected. Most of the infected bats were netted in an eco-region characterized by plantations grown beneath shade-providing fruit trees that favors breeding conditions for the sand fly vectors and brings them in close proximity with frugivorous, insectivorous or nectarivorous bats. None of the infected bat tissues showed macroscopic lesions. Through artificial infections, we were also able to show that Leishmania (L.) mexicana remains viable and infective after passage through one species of bat. We conclude that various species of bats belonging to the family Phyllostomidae are possible reservoir hosts of Leishmania (L.) mexicana.
PMCID: PMC4309399  PMID: 25629729
21.  Overview of the organization of protease genes in the genome of Leishmania spp 
Parasites & Vectors  2014;7(1):387.
The genus Leishmania includes protozoan parasites that are able to infect an array of phlebotomine and vertebrate species. Proteases are related to the capacity of these parasites to infect and survive in their hosts and are therefore classified as virulence factors.
By analyzing protease genes annotated in the genomes of four Leishmania spp [Leishmania (Leishmania) infantum, L. (L.) major, L. (L.) mexicana and L. (Viannia) braziliensis], these genes were found on every chromosome of these protozoa. Four protease classes were studied: metallo-, serine, cysteine and aspartic proteases. Metalloprotease genes predominate in the L. (V.) braziliensis genome, while in the other three species studied, cysteine protease genes prevail. Notably, cysteine and serine protease genes were found to be very abundant, as they were found on all chromosomes of the four studied species. In contrast, only three aspartic protease genes could be detected in these four species. Regarding gene conservation, a higher number of conserved alleles was observed for cysteine proteases (42 alleles), followed by metalloproteases (35 alleles) and serine proteases (15 alleles).
The present study highlights substantial differences in the organization of protease genes among L. (L.) infantum, L. (L.) major, L. (L.) mexicana and L. (V.) braziliensis. We observed significant distinctions in many protease features, such as occurrence, quantity and conservation. These data indicate a great diversity of protease genes among Leishmania species, an aspect that may be related to their adaptations to the peculiarities of each microenvironment they inhabit, such as the gut of phlebotomines and the immune cells of vertebrate hosts.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-387) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4158035  PMID: 25142315
Leishmania; Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis; Leishmania (Leishmania) infantum; Leishmania (Leishmania) major; Leishmania (Leishmania) mexicana; Proteases
22.  Regulated Degradation of an Endoplasmic Reticulum Membrane Protein in a Tubular Lysosome in Leishmania mexicana 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2001;12(8):2364-2377.
The cell surface of the human parasite Leishmania mexicana is coated with glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored macromolecules and free GPI glycolipids. We have investigated the intracellular trafficking of green fluorescent protein- and hemagglutinin-tagged forms of dolichol-phosphate-mannose synthase (DPMS), a key enzyme in GPI biosynthesis in L. mexicana promastigotes. These functionally active chimeras are found in the same subcompartment of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) as endogenous DPMS but are degraded as logarithmically growing promastigotes reach stationary phase, coincident with the down-regulation of endogenous DPMS activity and GPI biosynthesis in these cells. We provide evidence that these chimeras are constitutively transported to and degraded in a novel multivesicular tubule (MVT) lysosome. This organelle is a terminal lysosome, which is labeled with the endocytic marker FM 4-64, contains lysosomal cysteine and serine proteases and is disrupted by lysomorphotropic agents. Electron microscopy and subcellular fractionation studies suggest that the DPMS chimeras are transported from the ER to the lumen of the MVT via the Golgi apparatus and a population of 200-nm multivesicular bodies. In contrast, soluble ER proteins are not detectably transported to the MVT lysosome in either log or stationary phase promastigotes. Finally, the increased degradation of the DPMS chimeras in stationary phase promastigotes coincides with an increase in the lytic capacity of the MVT lysosome and changes in the morphology of this organelle. We conclude that lysosomal degradation of DPMS may be important in regulating the cellular levels of this enzyme and the stage-dependent biosynthesis of the major surface glycolipids of these parasites.
PMCID: PMC58600  PMID: 11514622
23.  Hemoglobin digestion in Blood-Feeding Ticks: Mapping a Multi-Peptidase Pathway by Functional Proteomics 
Chemistry & biology  2009;16(10):1053-1063.
Hemoglobin digestion is an essential process for blood-feeding parasites. Using chemical tools, we deconvoluted the intracellular hemoglobinolytic cascade in the tick Ixodes ricinus, a vector of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. In tick gut tissue, a network of peptidases was demonstrated through imaging with specific activity-based probes and activity profiling with peptidic substrates/inhibitors. This peptidase network is induced upon blood feeding and degrades hemoglobin at acidic pH. Selective inhibitors were applied to dissect the roles of the individual peptidases and determine the peptidase-specific cleavage map of the hemoglobin molecule. The degradation pathway is initiated by endopeptidases of aspartic and cysteine class (cathepsin D supported by cathepsin L and legumain) and continued by cysteine amino- and carboxy-dipeptidases (cathepsins C and B). The identified enzymes are potential targets to developing novel anti-tick vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2801564  PMID: 19875079
24.  Synthetic glycovaccine protects against the bite of Leishmania-infected sand flies 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2006;194(4):512-518.
Leishmaniasis is a vector-borne disease transmitted to human and other mammalian hosts by sand fly bite. Here we show that immunization with Leishmania mexicana promastigote secretory gel (PSG) or a chemically defined synthetic glycovaccine containing the glycans found in L. mexicana PSG can both provide significant protection against challenge by the bite of infected sand flies. Only the glycan from L. mexicana was protective, those found in other species did not protect against L. mexicana infection. Further, neither PSG nor the glycovaccine protected against artificial needle challenge, which is traditionally used in antileishmanial vaccine development. Conversely, an antigen preparation that was effective against needle challenge offered no protection against sand fly bite. These findings provide a new target for Leishmania vaccine development and demonstrate the critical role of the vector in the evaluation of candidate vaccines for leishmaniasis and other vector-borne diseases.
PMCID: PMC2839923  PMID: 16845636
leishmaniasis; vaccine; sand fly; promastigote secretory gel
25.  Naturally azole-resistant Leishmania braziliensis promastigotes are rendered susceptible in the presence of terbinafine: comparative study with azole-susceptible Leishmania mexicana promastigotes. 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  1996;40(12):2785-2791.
Leishmania braziliensis (isolate 2903) was naturally resistant to ketoconazole or the bis-triazole D0870, inhibitors of sterol C-14 demethylase, which produced only moderate effects on the proliferation of promastigotes at 10 microM. In contrast, Leishmania mexicana (isolate NR) was extremely susceptible to the azoles, as complete growth arrest and cell lysis were induced by incubation of the parasites with 0.05 microM concentrations of the drugs for 72 h. The opposite response was observed with terbinafine, an inhibitor of squalene epoxidase: L. braziliensis 2903 was three times more susceptible to the drug than L. mexicana NR (MICs of 5 and 15 microM, respectively). However, when the L. braziliensis stock was grown in the presence of 1 microM terbinafine, which by itself produced only marginal (< 10%) effects on growth, it became highly susceptible to the azoles, with an MIC of 0.03 microM. Analysis of cellular free sterols by high-resolution capillary gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry showed that 14-methyl sterols can support normal growth of L. braziliensis 2903 but not of L. mexicana NR. On the other hand, the higher susceptibility of the L. braziliensis isolate to terbinafine was correlated with a massive accumulation of squalene in the presence of the allylamine while no significant effects on L. mexicana sterol composition were observed at drug concentrations up to 1 microM. Thus, the > 300-fold increase in the susceptibility of L. braziliensis promastigotes to azoles in the presence of terbinafine was attributed to the combined effect of squalene and the methylated sterol precursors on the physical properties of the cell's membranes, leading to the loss of cell viability. Combination therapy with azoles and terbinafine in the treatment of human L. braziliensis infections deserves further study.
PMCID: PMC163622  PMID: 9124841

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