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Miltefosine enhances infectivity of a miltefosine-resistant Leishmania infantum strain by attenuating its innate immune recognition

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Background Miltefosine (MIL) is currently the only oral drug available to treat visceral leishmaniasis but its use as first-line monotherapy has been compromised by an increasing treatment failure. Despite the scarce number of resistant clinical isolates, MIL-resistance by mutations in a single aminophospholipid transporter gene can easily be selected in a laboratory environment. These mutations result in a reduced survival in the mammalian host, which can partially be restored by exposure to MIL, suggesting a kind of drug-dependency. Methodology/Principal findings To enable a combined study of the infection dynamics and underlying immunological events for differential in vivo survival, firefly luciferase (PpyRE9) / red fluorescent protein (DsRed) double-reporter strains were generated of MIL-resistant (MIL-R) and syngeneic MIL-sensitive (MIL-S) Leishmania infantum. Results in C57Bl/6 and BALB/c mice show that MIL-R parasites induce an increased innate immune response that is characterized by enhanced influx and infection of neutrophils, monocytes and dendritic cells in the liver and elevated serum IFN-gamma levels, finally resulting in a less efficient establishment in liver macrophages. The elevated IFN-gamma levels were shown to originate from an increased response of hepatic NK and NKT cells to the MIL-R parasites. In addition, we demonstrated that MIL could increase the in vivo fitness of MIL-R parasites by lowering NK and NKT cell activation, leading to a reduced IFN-gamma production. Conclusions/Significance Differential induction of innate immune responses in the liver was found to underlie the attenuated phenotype of a MIL-R parasite and its peculiar feature of drug-dependency. The impact of MIL on hepatic NK and NKT activation and IFN-gamma production following recognition of a MIL-R strain indicates that this mechanism may sustain infections with resistant parasites and contribute to treatment failure. Author summary Visceral leishmaniasis is a neglected tropical disease that is fatal if left untreated. Miltefosine is currently the only oral drug available but is increasingly failing to cure patients, resulting in its discontinuation as first-line drug in some endemic areas. To understand these treatment failures, we investigated the complex interplay of the parasite with the host immune system in the presence and absence of miltefosine. Our data indicate that miltefosine-resistant Leishmania parasites become severely hampered in their in vivo infectivity, which could be attributed to the induction of a pronounced innate immune response. Interestingly, the infection deficit was partially restored in the presence of miltefosine. Our results further indicate that miltefosine can exacerbate infections with resistant parasites by reducing innate immune recognition. This study provides new insights into the complex interplay between parasite, drug and host and discloses an immune-related mechanism of treatment failure.
Journal: PLoS neglected tropical diseases
ISSN: 1935-2727
Volume: 15
Number of pages: 27
Publication year:2021
Keywords:A1 Journal article