Hypoxia-Inducible Factor Signaling in Macrophages Promotes Lymphangiogenesis in Leishmania major Infection

Infect Immun. 2021 Jul 15;89(8):e0012421. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00124-21. Epub 2021 Jul 15.


Vascular remodeling is a phenomenon seen in the cutaneous lesions formed during infection with Leishmania parasites. Within the lesion, Leishmania major infection leads to the infiltration of inflammatory cells, including macrophages, and is associated with hypoxic conditions and lymphangiogenesis in the local site. This low-oxygen environment is concomitant with the expression of hypoxic inducible factors (HIFs), which initiate the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) in macrophages during the infection. Here, we found that macrophage hypoxia is elevated in the skin, and the HIF target Vegfa is preferentially expressed at the site of infection. Further, transcripts indicative of both HIF-1α and HIF-2α activation were increased at the site of infection. Given that HIF mediates VEGF-A and that VEGF-A/VEGFR-2 signaling induces lymphangiogenesis, we wanted to investigate the link between myeloid HIF activation and lymphangiogenesis during L. major infection. We show that myeloid aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (ARNT)/HIF/VEGF-A signaling promotes lymphangiogenesis (the generation of newly formed vessels within the local lymphatic network), which helps resolve the lesion by draining away inflammatory cells and fluid. Concomitant with impaired lymphangiogenesis, we find the deletion of myeloid ARNT/HIF signaling leads to an exacerbated inflammatory response associated with a heightened CD4+ Th1 immune response following L. major infection. Altogether, our data suggest that VEGF-A-mediated lymphangiogenesis occurs through myeloid ARNT/HIF activation following Leishmania major infection and this process is critical in limiting immunopathology.

Keywords: ARNT; HIF; Leishmania; leishmaniasis; lymphangiogenesis; lymphatic vessels; macrophages; vascular remodeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Nuclear Translocator / metabolism
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Leishmania major / physiology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / etiology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / metabolism*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / pathology
  • Lymphangiogenesis / immunology*
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Biomarkers
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Nuclear Translocator