Visceral leishmaniasis is the most severe form of leishmaniasis. Approximately 20% of zoonotic human visceral leishmaniasis worldwide is caused by Leishmania infantum, which is also known as Leishmania chagasi in Latin America, and disease incidence is increasing in urban and peri-urban areas of the tropics. In this form of disease, dogs are the main reservoirs. Diagnostic methods used to identify Leishmania infected animals are not able to detect all of the infected ones, which can compromise the effectiveness of disease control. Therefore, to contribute to the improvement of diagnostic methods for canine visceral leishmaniasis (CVL), we aimed to identify and test novel antigens using high-throughput analysis.
Immunodominant proteins from L. infantum were mapped in silico to predict B cell epitopes, and the 360 predicted peptides were synthesized on cellulose membranes. Immunoassays were used to select the most reactive peptides, which were then investigated with canine sera. Next, the 10 most reactive peptides were synthesized using solid phase peptide synthesis protocol and tested using ELISA. The sensitivity and specificity of these peptides were also compared to the EIE-LVC Bio-Manguinhos kit, which is recommended by the Brazilian Ministry of Health for use in leishmaniasis control programs. The sensitivity and specificity of the selected synthesized peptides was as high as 88.70% and 95.00%, respectively, whereas the EIE-LVC kit had a sensitivity of 13.08% and 100.00% of specificity. Although the tests based on synthetic peptides were able to diagnose up to 94.80% of asymptomatic dogs with leishmaniasis, the EIE-LVC kit failed to detect the disease in any of the infected asymptomatic dogs.
Our study shows that ELISA using synthetic peptides is a technique with great potential for diagnosing CVL; furthermore, the use of these peptides in other diagnostic methodologies, such as immunochromatographic tests, could be beneficial to CVL control programs.
Globally, the number of new human cases of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is estimated to be approximately 500,000 per year. This is the most severe of all forms of leishmaniasis, and the zoonotic form of VL, caused by Leishmania infantum (also known as Leishmania chagasi), represents 20% of human visceral leishmaniasis worldwide; additionally, its prevalence is increasing in urban and peri-urban areas of the tropics. In Brazil, the identification and elimination of infected dogs, which act as a reservoir for Leishmania parasites, is a control measure employed in addition to the use of insecticides against the vectors and the identification and treatment of infected humans. Currently, the diagnostic methods employed to identify infected animals are not able to detect all of these dogs, which compromises the effectiveness of control measures. Moreover, one of the most important issues in controlling VL is the difficulty of diagnosing asymptomatic dogs, which act as parasite reservoirs. Therefore, to contribute to the improvement of the diagnostic methods for CVL, we aimed to identify and characterize new antigens that were more sensitive and specific and could be applied in epidemiologic surveys.