Shape, form, function and Leishmania pathogenicity: from textbook descriptions to biological understanding

Open Biol. 2017 Sep;7(9):170165. doi: 10.1098/rsob.170165.


The shape and form of protozoan parasites are inextricably linked to their pathogenicity. The evolutionary pressure associated with establishing and maintaining an infection and transmission to vector or host has shaped parasite morphology. However, there is not a 'one size fits all' morphological solution to these different pressures, and parasites exhibit a range of different morphologies, reflecting the diversity of their complex life cycles. In this review, we will focus on the shape and form of Leishmania spp., a group of very successful protozoan parasites that cause a range of diseases from self-healing cutaneous leishmaniasis to visceral leishmaniasis, which is fatal if left untreated.

Keywords: Leishmania; morphology; parasite; pathogenicity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flagella / physiology
  • Flagella / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology*
  • Leishmania / growth & development*
  • Leishmania / pathogenicity*
  • Leishmania / ultrastructure
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / parasitology
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / pathology
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / transmission*
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / parasitology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / pathology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / transmission*
  • Life Cycle Stages / physiology*
  • Macrophages / parasitology
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Phlebotomus / parasitology
  • Psychodidae / parasitology