In eukaryotes, the enzyme GDP-mannose pyrophosphorylase (GDPMP) is essential for the formation of GDP-mannose, the central activated mannose donor in glycosylation reactions. Deletion of its gene is lethal in fungi, most likely as a consequence of disrupted glycoconjugate biosynthesis. Furthermore, absence of GDPMP enzyme activity and the expected loss of all mannose-containing glycoconjugates have so far not been observed in any eukaryotic organism. In this study we have cloned and characterized the gene encoding GDPMP from the eukaryotic protozoan parasite Leishmania mexicana. We report the generation of GDPMP gene deletion mutants of this human pathogen that are devoid of detectable GDPMP activity and completely lack mannose-containing glycoproteins and glycolipids, such as lipophosphoglycan, proteophosphoglycans, glycosylphosphatidylinositol protein membrane anchors, glycoinositolphospholipids and N-glycans. The loss of GDPMP renders the parasites unable to infect macrophages or mice, while gene addback restores virulence. Our study demonstrates that GDP-mannose biosynthesis is not essential for Leishmania viability in culture, but constitutes a virulence pathway in these human pathogens.