The use of a water-soluble formazan complex to quantitate the cell number and mitochondrial function of Leishmania major promastigotes

Parasitol Res. 1994;80(3):235-9. doi: 10.1007/BF00932680.


One of the methods to quantitate Leishmania major promastigotes (LmP) has been to utilize the formation of a formazan dye, which in turn is produced via conversion of an artificial substrate, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT). The method has one major drawback in that the formazan complex precipitates inside the parasites and has to be extracted by denaturants before measurements can be performed. By using a new synthetic substrate, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-5- (3-carboxymethoxyphenyl)-2-(4-sulfonyl)-2H-tetrazolium (MTS), the extraction procedure is eliminated as the formazan-like dye is released spontaneously into the medium, making it possible to perform several measurements on the same parasite culture without disturbing or killing the parasites. The measurements were shown to reflect the numbers of parasites as confirmed via comparative experiments using radioactive thymidine uptake and cell counting, respectively. The method is simple, fast, and highly reproducible and is suitable for drug screening, identification of drug-resistant isolates, and growth-kinetics studies. It is therefore contemplated that the MTS method will be a general and useful technique in this field of parasitology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimony Sodium Gluconate / pharmacology
  • Formazans*
  • Leishmania major / drug effects
  • Leishmania major / growth & development
  • Leishmania major / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Pentamidine / pharmacology
  • Temperature
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • Thymidine / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Formazans
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-5-(3-carboxymethoxyphenyl)-2-(4-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium
  • MTT formazan
  • Pentamidine
  • Antimony Sodium Gluconate
  • Thymidine