Moroccan strains of Leishmania major and Leishmania tropica differentially impact on nitric oxide production by macrophages

Parasit Vectors. 2017 Oct 23;10(1):506. doi: 10.1186/s13071-017-2401-4.


Background: Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is a vector-borne parasitic disease caused by protozoa of the genus Leishmania. In Morocco, CL is a public health problem mainly caused by Leishmania major and Leishmania tropica, which are responsible for zoonotic and anthroponotic CL, respectively. Macrophages are the primary cells infected by Leishmania parasites and their capacity to produce nitric oxide (NO) is of critical importance for parasite elimination. To our knowledge, the role of NO on autochthonous infections has never been investigated before. In this study, we evaluated in vitro the capacity of autochthonous primary dermotropic strains of L. major and L. tropica to modulate NO production by J774-macrophages and determine the sensitivity of both species to exogenous NO.

Methods: The infectivity of the J774 cell line was analyzed by optical microscopy. NO production by macrophages was measured by the Griess method. The sensitivity to NO by the two strains was assessed by the MTT assay using NO donors.

Results: Our results show that the percentage of infected macrophages and the average number of parasites per macrophage were similar for L. major and L. tropica strains. While L. tropica significantly inhibited NO production induced by LPS and IFN-γ stimulation in J774 macrophages, L. major did not affect it. However, soluble Leishmania antigens (SLAs) from both autochthonous primary strains significantly inhibited the production of NO by J774-macrophages in a dose-dependent manner. Finally, our results demonstrated that promastigotes and amastigotes from both strains are sensitive to SNAP NO donor in a dose-dependent manner, although L. tropica demonstrated an increased sensitivity.

Conclusions: Our results suggest a differential ability of L. major and L. tropica strains to modulate the capacity of macrophages to produce NO. The increased ability of L. tropica to inhibit NO production by macrophages might come as a necessity due to its higher sensitivity to NO donor. Our results provide one explanation for the tendency of L. tropica to cause chronic lesions and may contribute to the different physiopathology of CL in Morocco.

Keywords: Cutaneous leishmaniasis; Leishmania major; Leishmania tropica; NO donors; Nitric oxide; Soluble Leishmania antigens; macrophages.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Cell Line
  • Leishmania major / drug effects
  • Leishmania major / physiology*
  • Leishmania tropica / drug effects
  • Leishmania tropica / physiology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / epidemiology
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / parasitology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / parasitology*
  • Macrophages / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Microscopy
  • Morocco / epidemiology
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Nitric Oxide / pharmacology
  • Zoonoses


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Nitric Oxide