Leishmania disease development depends on the presence of apoptotic promastigotes in the virulent inoculum

Ger Van Zandbergen*, Annalena Bollinger, Alexander Wenzel, Shaden Kamhawi, Reinhard Voll, Matthias Klinger, Antje Müller, Christoph Hölscher, Martin Herrmann, David Sacks, Werner Solbach, Tamás Laskay

*Corresponding author for this work
129 Citations (Scopus)


The obligate intracellular pathogen Leishmania major survives and multiplies in professional phagocytes. The evasion strategy to circumvent killing by host phagocytes and establish a productive infection is poorly understood. Here we report that the virulent inoculum of Leishmania promastigotes contains a high ratio of annexin A5-binding apoptotic parasites. This subpopulation of parasites is characterized by a round body shape, a swollen kinetoplast, nuclear condensation, and a lack of multiplication and represents dying or already dead parasites. After depleting the apoptotic parasites from a virulent population, Leishmania do not survive in phagocytes in vitro and lose their disease-inducing ability in vivo. TGF-β induced by apoptotic parasites is likely to mediate the silencing of phagocytes and lead to survival of infectious Leishmania populations. The data demonstrate that apoptotic promastigotes, in an altruistic way, enable the intracellular survival of the viable parasites.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
Pages (from-to)13837-13842
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 12.09.2006

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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