Leishmania major: a clone with low virulence for BALB/c mice elicits a Th1 type response and protects against infection with a highly virulent clone

J Li, T J Nolan, J P Farrell
Experimental Parasitology 1997, 87 (1): 47-57
BALB/c mice are highly susceptible to infection with Leishmania major and generally develop a severe, nonhealing form of disease following parasite inoculation. As opposed to protective Th1 type immune responses which develop in resistant strains of mice, BALB/c mice develop predominant Th2 type responses characterized by the production of high levels of IL-4, but only low levels of IFN-gamma. However, BALB/c mice will develop resistance and Th1 type responses following the inoculation of very low numbers of L. major promastigotes. In this study, we have examined the effects of parasite virulence on the immune response and disease phenotype in susceptible BALB/c mice. Two clones of L. major were isolated which differed with respect to their in vitro growth rates as promastigotes and their virulence for mice. One rapidly growing clone, L.m.F1, was highly virulent in BALB/c mice and produced nonhealing infections characterized by predominant Th2 type responses. In contrast, a slow-growing clone, L.m.S2, was less virulent in BALB/c mice and produced self-healing infections at parasite doses equivalent to those which produced progressive disease with the more virulent clone. Mice which healed infections with the L.m.S2 clone developed responses characterized by elevated production of IFN-gamma and were resistant to a challenge infection with the virulent L.m.F1 clone. These results suggest that the virulence of individual parasite clones may influence both the course of disease and the phenotype of the immune response which develops during infection.

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