High-content assay for measuring intracellular growth of Leishmania in human macrophages

Assay Drug Dev Technol. 2015 Sep;13(7):389-401. doi: 10.1089/adt.2015.652. Epub 2015 Aug 6.


Leishmania species are sandfly-transmitted protozoan parasites that cause a spectrum of diseases, ranging from localized skin lesions to fatal visceral disease, in more than 12 million people worldwide. These parasites primarily target macrophages in their mammalian hosts and proliferate as non-motile amastigotes in the phagolysosomal compartment of these cells. High-throughput screens for measuring Leishmania growth within this intracellular niche are needed to identify host and parasite factors that are required for virulence and to identify new drug candidates. Here we describe the development of a new high-content imaging method for quantifying the intracellular growth of Leishmania mexicana parasites in THP-1 macrophages. Wild-type parasites were pre-stained with the fluorescent dye CellTracker(™) Orange CMRA and used to infect THP-1 macrophages in 384-well plates. Infected and uninfected macrophages were subsequently stained with CellTracker Green CMFDA, allowing accurate quantitation of the number of parasites per macrophage using separate detector channels. We validated this method for use in high-content drug screening by examining the dose dependence of known anti-leishmanial drugs on intracellular growth. Unlike previous protocols, this method does not require the generation of transgenic fluorescent or bioluminescent parasite lines and can be readily adapted for screening different Leishmania species, strains, or mutant lines in a wide range of phagocytic host cell types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Tracking
  • Cells, Cultured
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Leishmania / drug effects
  • Leishmania / growth & development*
  • Macrophages / parasitology*