Modulation of Host Immune Response during Leishmania infantum Natural Infection: A Whole-Transcriptome Analysis of the Popliteal Lymph Nodes in Dogs

Front Immunol. 2022 Jan 4;12:794627. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.794627. eCollection 2021.


Leishmania infantum, the etiological agent of canine leishmaniosis (CanL) in Europe, was responsible of the largest outbreak of human leishmaniosis in Spain. The parasite infects and survives within myeloid lineage cells, causing a potentially fatal disease if left untreated. The only treatment option relies on chemotherapy, although immunotherapy strategies are being considered as novel approaches to prevent progression of the disease. To this aim, a deeper characterization of the molecular mechanisms behind the immunopathogenesis of leishmaniosis is necessary. Thus, we evaluated, for the first time, the host immune response during L. infantum infection through transcriptome sequencing of the popliteal lymph nodes aspirates of dogs with CanL. Differential expression and weighted gene co-expression network analyses were performed, resulting in the identification of 5,461 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) and four key modules in sick dogs, compared to controls. As expected, defense response was the highest enriched biological process in the DEGs, with six genes related to immune response against pathogens (CHI3L1, SLPI, ACOD1, CCL5, MPO, BPI) included among the ten most expressed genes; and two of the key co-expression modules were associated with regulation of immune response, which also positively correlated with clinical stage and blood monocyte concentration. In particular, sick dogs displayed significant changes in the expression of Th1, Th2, Th17 and Tr1 cytokines (e. g. TNF-α, IFN-γ, IL-21, IL-17, IL-15), markers of T cell and NK cell exhaustion (e. g. LAG3, CD244, Blimp-1, JUN), and B cell, monocyte and macrophage disrupted functionality (e. g. CD40LG, MAPK4, IL-1R, NLRP3, BCMA). In addition, we found an overexpression of XBP1 and some other genes involved in endoplasmic reticulum stress and the IRE1 branch of the unfolded protein response, as well as one co-expression module associated with these processes, which could be induced by L. infantum to prevent host cell apoptosis and modulate inflammation-induced lymphangiogenesis at lymph nodes. Moreover, 21 lncRNAs were differentially expressed in sick dogs, and one key co-expression module was associated with chromatin organization, suggesting that epigenetic mechanisms could also contribute to dampening host immune response during natural L. infantum infection in the lymph nodes of dogs suffering from clinical leishmaniosis.

Keywords: RNA-seq; T cell exhaustion; canine leishmaniosis; cytokine; immunomodulation; lncRNA; parasite immune evasion; unfolded protein response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Dog Diseases / immunology*
  • Dog Diseases / parasitology*
  • Dogs
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology*
  • Immunity*
  • Leishmania infantum / immunology*
  • Leishmaniasis / veterinary*
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymph Nodes / metabolism
  • Transcriptome