Essential Role of Enzymatic Activity in the Leishmanicidal Mechanism of the Eosinophil Cationic Protein (RNase 3)

ACS Infect Dis. 2022 Jun 22. doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.1c00537. Online ahead of print.


The recruitment of eosinophils into Leishmania lesions is frequently associated with a favorable evolution. A feasible effector for this process is eosinophil cationic protein (ECP, RNase 3), one of the main human eosinophil granule proteins, endowed with a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity, including parasites. ECP was active on Leishmania promastigotes and axenic amastigotes (LC50's = 3 and 16 μM, respectively) but, in contrast to the irreversible membrane damage caused on bacteria and reproduced by its N-terminal peptides, it only induced a mild and transient plasma membrane destabilization on Leishmania donovani promastigotes. To assess the contribution of RNase activity to the overall leishmanicidal activity of ECP, parasites were challenged in parallel with a single-mutant version, ECP-H15A, devoid of RNase activity, that fully preserves the conformation and liposome permeabilization ability. ECP-H15A showed a similar uptake to ECP on promastigotes, but with higher LC50's (>25 μM) for both parasite stages. ECP-treated promastigotes showed a degraded RNA pattern, absent in ECP-H15A-treated samples. Moreover ECP, but not ECP-H15A, reduced more than 2-fold the parasite burden of infected macrophages. Altogether, our results suggest that ECP enters the Leishmania cytoplasm by an endocytic pathway, ultimately leading to RNA degradation as a key contribution to the leishmanicidal mechanism. Thus, ECP combines both membrane destabilization and enzymatic activities to effect parasite killing. Taken together, our data highlight the microbicidal versatility of ECP as an innate immunity component and support the development of cell-penetrating RNases as putative leishmanicidal agents.

Keywords: RNase; antimicrobial peptide; cell-penetrating enzyme; membrane disruption; protozoa.