The IL-33/ST2 axis is associated with human visceral leishmaniasis and suppresses Th1 responses in the livers of BALB/c mice infected with Leishmania donovani

mBio. 2013 Sep 17;4(5):e00383-13. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00383-13.


During visceral leishmaniasis, the control of hepatic parasite burden is mainly due to granuloma assembly in a microenvironment consisting of both Th1 and Th2 components. Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) dosages, quantitative PCR (qPCR), immunohistochemistry, and flow cytometry, we studied the role of interleukin-33 (IL-33), a recently described cytokine signaling through the ST2 receptor, during visceral leishmaniasis. We showed that a higher level of IL-33 was detected in the serum of patients with visceral leishmaniasis than in that from healthy donors and demonstrated the presence of IL-33(+) cells in a liver biopsy specimen from a patient. Similarly, in BALB/c mice experimentally infected with L. donovani, a higher level of IL-33 was detected in the serum, as well as the presence of IL-33(+) cells and ST2(+) cells in the mouse liver. In ST2(-/-) BALB/c mice, better control of the hepatic parasite burden and reduced hepatomegaly were observed. This was associated with strong induction of Th1 cytokines (gamma interferon [IFN-γ] and IL-12) compared to the level in wild-type (WT) mice and better recruitment of myeloid cells associated with strongly induced chemokines (CCL2 and CXCL2) and receptors (CCR2 and CXCR2). Conversely, BALB/c mice treated twice weekly with recombinant IL-33 showed a dramatically reduced induction of Th1 cytokines and delayed inhibition of monocyte and neutrophil recruitment in the liver, which was associated with reduced KC/CXCL1 and CXCR2 expression. Taken together, our results suggest that IL-33 could be a new deleterious regulator of the hepatic immune response against Leishmania donovani, via the repression of the Th1 response and myeloid cell recruitment.

Importance: Visceral leishmaniasis is a life-threatening systemic disease due to the Leishmania protozoa L. infantum and L. donovani and is ranked by the World Health Organization as the second most important protozoan parasitic disease after malaria for its grave morbidity, high mortality, and global distribution. Leishmania parasites subvert the host's immune response to propagate to target organs, including the spleen, the bone marrow, and the liver. Control of hepatic parasite burdens depends on a delicate and poorly understood Th1/Th2 immune balance. To better understand this complex immune response, new cytokines are interesting targets for research studies. IL-33 is a newly described cytokine usually associated with Th2 response and involved in different diseases, including infectious diseases and hepatitis. Our results suggest that IL-33 could be a new factor of susceptibility and a potential prognostic marker during visceral leishmaniasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / genetics
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor-Like 1 Protein
  • Interleukin-12 / genetics
  • Interleukin-12 / immunology
  • Interleukin-33
  • Interleukins / blood
  • Interleukins / genetics
  • Interleukins / immunology*
  • Leishmania donovani / immunology*
  • Leishmania donovani / physiology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / blood
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / genetics
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / immunology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / parasitology
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver / parasitology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / blood
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology*
  • Receptors, Interleukin / genetics
  • Receptors, Interleukin / immunology*
  • Th1 Cells / immunology*


  • IL1RL1 protein, human
  • IL33 protein, human
  • Il1rl1 protein, mouse
  • Il33 protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor-Like 1 Protein
  • Interleukin-33
  • Interleukins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Interleukin
  • Interleukin-12
  • Interferon-gamma