Leishmania donovani Exploits Macrophage Heme Oxygenase-1 To Neutralize Oxidative Burst and TLR Signaling-Dependent Host Defense

J Immunol. 2019 Feb 1;202(3):827-840. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1800958. Epub 2018 Dec 28.


Suppression of host oxidative burst is essential for survival of the intracellular parasite Leishmania donovani Screening of macrophage antioxidant enzymes during infection revealed marked upregulation of the heme-degrading enzyme, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). Moreover, HO-1-silenced RAW macrophages depicted increased superoxide production and decreased parasite survival. HO-1 induction decreased cellular heme content, thereby inhibiting the heme-dependent maturation of gp91phox, a catalytic component of major reactive oxygen species-producing enzyme NAD(P)H oxidase. Decreased gp91phox expression resulted in reduced stability of p22phox, another component of the catalytic center of NAD(P)H oxidase. Replenishing infected cells with exogenous heme reversed these effects and restored NAD(P)H oxidase activity. Persistent HO-1 expression at late hour of infection prompted us to investigate its effect on other host defense parameters, and inhibition study revealed a reciprocal relationship of HO-1 with host proinflammatory responses. Among all the HO-1-mediated heme degradation products (CO, Fe, and biliverdin), only CO documented potent anti-inflammatory effects. Quenching of CO during infection increased the production of disease-resolving cytokines IL-12 and TNF-α. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments revealed that CO inhibited the interaction of TLR4 with MyD88 and TIR domain-containing adapter-inducing IFN-β, thereby dampening the activation of NF-κB and IFN regulatory factor 3-mediated production of proinflammatory cytokines. Administration of HO-1 inhibitor tin protoporphyrin IX dichloride in infected BALB/c mice led to a decrease in liver and spleen parasite burden along with increased production of IL-12 and TNF-α. These results suggest that HO-1 on one hand inhibits reactive oxygen species generation and on the other hand downregulates host favorable cytokine responses, thereby facilitating intramacrophage parasite survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Female
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / metabolism*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Leishmania donovani / immunology*
  • Macrophages / enzymology*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / parasitology
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • NADPH Oxidase 2 / metabolism
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • Parasite Load
  • Protoporphyrins / administration & dosage
  • RAW 264.7 Cells
  • Respiratory Burst*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / immunology*
  • Up-Regulation


  • Cytokines
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protoporphyrins
  • Tlr4 protein, mouse
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • protoporphyrin IX
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Hmox1 protein, mouse
  • Cybb protein, mouse
  • NADPH Oxidase 2
  • NADPH Oxidases