Improvements in transfection efficiency and tests of RNA interference (RNAi) approaches in the protozoan parasite Leishmania

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2003 May;128(2):217-28. doi: 10.1016/s0166-6851(03)00079-3.


Approaches which eliminate mRNA expression directly are ideally suited for reverse genetics applications in eukaryotic microbes which are asexual diploids, such as the protozoan parasite Leishmania. RNA interference (RNAi) approaches have been successful in many species, including the related parasite Trypanosoma brucei. For RNAi tests in Leishmania, we developed improved protocols for transient and stable DNA transfection, attaining efficiencies of up to 25 and 3%, respectively. This facilitated RNAi tests at the alpha-tubulin locus, whose inhibition gives a strong lethal phenotype in trypanosomatids. However, transient or stable transfection of DNAs encoding mRNAs for an alpha-tubulin stem-loop construct and GFP to monitor transfection resulted in no effect on parasite morphology, growth or tubulin expression in Leishmania major or L. donovani. Transient transfection of a 24-nucleotide double-stranded alpha-tubulin siRNA also had no effect. Similar results were obtained in studies targeting an introduced GFP gene with a GFP stem-loop construct. These data suggest that typical RNAi strategies may not work effectively in Leishmania, and raise the possibility that Leishmania is naturally deficient for RNAi activity, like Saccharomyces cerevisae. The implications to parasite biology, gene amplification, and genetic analysis are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Leishmania / genetics*
  • Leishmania donovani / genetics
  • Leishmania donovani / metabolism
  • Leishmania major / genetics
  • Leishmania major / metabolism
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Transfection / methods*
  • Tubulin / metabolism


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Tubulin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins