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Summary

Protozoan parasites belonging to the genus Leishmania exhibit a pronounced tropism for macrophages although they have the capacity to infect a variety of other phagocytic and non-phagocytic mammalian cells. Unlike most other intramacrophage pathogens, the major proliferative stage of Leishmania resides in the mature phagolysosomes of these host cells. In this review we highlight some of the strategies utilized by the intracellular amastigote stage of Leishmania to survive in this compartment. Remarkably, and in contrast to many other intracellular pathogens, Leishmania amastigotes have a minimalist surface glycocalyx which may facilitate uptake of essential lipids and promote exposure of phospholipids required for phagocytosis via macrophage apoptotic cell receptors. Leishmania amastigotes also differ from many other intracellular pathogens in having complex nutritional requirements which must be scavenged from the host cell. Amino acids and polyamines appear to be important carbon sources and growth-limiting nutrients, respectively, and their availability to intracellular amastigotes may be regulated by the activation state of host macrophages. Metabolic processes in both the parasite and host cell may thus be crucial determinants of disease outcome.