Infection with Leishmania parasites causes mainly cutaneous lesions at the site of the sand fly bite. Inflammatory metastatic forms have been reported with Leishmania species such as L. braziliensis, guyanensis and aethiopica. Little is known about the factors underlying such exacerbated clinical presentations.
Leishmania RNA virus (LRV) is mainly found within South American Leishmania braziliensis and guyanensis. In a mouse model of L. guyanensis infection, its presence is responsible for an hyper-inflammatory response driven by the recognition of the viral dsRNA genome by the host Toll-like Receptor 3 leading to an exacerbation of the disease. In one instance, LRV was reported outside of South America, namely in the L. major ASKH strain from Turkmenistan, suggesting that LRV appeared before the divergence of Leishmania subgenera. LRV presence inside Leishmania parasites could be one of the factors implicated in disease severity, providing rationale for LRV screening in L. aethiopica.
A new LRV member was identified in four L. aethiopica strains (LRV-Lae). Three LRV-Lae genomes were sequenced and compared to L. guyanensis LRV1 and L. major LRV2. LRV-Lae more closely resembled LRV2. Despite their similar genomic organization, a notable difference was observed in the region where the capsid protein and viral polymerase open reading frames overlap, with a unique −1 situation in LRV-Lae. In vitro infection of murine macrophages showed that LRV-Lae induced a TLR3-dependent inflammatory response as previously observed for LRV1.
In this study, we report the presence of an immunogenic dsRNA virus in L. aethiopica human isolates. This is the first observation of LRV in Africa, and together with the unique description of LRV2 in Turkmenistan, it confirmed that LRV was present before the divergence of the L. (Leishmania) and (Viannia) subgenera. The potential implication of LRV-Lae on disease severity due to L. aethiopica infections is discussed.
Leishmania RNA virus (LRV) has been detected in Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis and guyanensis species, parasites causing not only cutaneous but also mucosal and disseminated leishmaniases. In a mouse model, the viral dsRNA genome within L. guyanensis parasites is recognized by host Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) and induces pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, typically IL-6 and TNF-α, which are hallmarks of human mucosal leishmaniasis. Metastatisic complications such as mucosal and diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis have also been described in other parts of the world, e.g. in Ethiopia. We detected LRV within L. aethiopica human isolates. Sequencing of three L. aethiopica LRVs (LRV-Lae) genomes confirmed that LRV-Lae belongs to the same Totiviridae family of LRVs found in South American species (LRV1) and present in a single L. major isolate from Turkmenistan (LRV2). LRV-Lae genomic organization is similar but not identical to the other LRVs, with a unique −1 frameshift situation in the overlapping region of the capsid protein/polymerase genes. Finally and similarly to L. guyanensis LRV1, LRV-Lae induced a TLR3-dependent inflammatory response in infected macrophages. The presence of LRV and its detection could be a crucial step towards better understanding the pathology spectrum of L. aethiopica infections.