The hamster as a model of human visceral leishmaniasis: Progressive disease and impaired generation of nitric oxide in the face of a prominent Th1-like cytokine response

P. C. Melby, B. Chandrasekar, W. Zhao, J. E. Coe

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Active human visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is characterized by a progressive increase in visceral parasite burden, cachexia, massive splenomegaly, and hypergammaglobulinemia. In contrast, mice infected with Leishmania donovani, the most commonly studied model of VL, do not develop overt, progressive disease. Furthermore, mice control Leishmania infection through the generation of NO, an effector mechanism that does not have a clear role in human macrophage antimicrobial function. Remarkably, infection of the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) with L. donovani reproduced the clinicopathological features of human VL, and investigation into the mechanisms of disease in the hamster revealed striking differences from the murine model. Uncontrolled parasite replication in the hamster liver, spleen, and bone marrow occurred despite a strong Th1-like cytokine (IL-2, IFN-γ, and TNF/lymphotoxin) response in these organs, suggesting impairment of macrophage effector function. Indeed, throughout the course of infection, inducible NO synthase (iNOS, NOS2) mRNA or enzyme activity in liver or spleen tissue was not detected. In contrast, NOS2 mRNA and enzyme activity was readily detected in the spleens of infected mice. The impaired hamster NOS2 expression could not be explained by an absence of the NOS2 gene, overproduction of IL-4, defective TNF/lymphotoxin production (a potent second signal for NOS2 induction), or early dominant production of the deactivating cytokines IL-10 and TGF-β. Thus, although a Th1-like cytokine response was prominent, the major antileishmanial effector mechanism that is responsible for control of infection in mice was absent throughout the course of progressive VL in the hamster.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1912-1920
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2001


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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