A new mechanism of immune evasion by Leishmania parasites

Posted by Kasra

It is always pleasant to read papers published by friends and old colleagues.  Also it was about time I would write another post about Leishmania. This new paper published in Cell host and microbe (pubmed index) discusses a new mechanism that Leishmania parasites use to evade the host immunity.

 A quick reminder, the promastigote forms of Leishmania enter the mammalian host via bite of the sandfly. They are readily phagocytosed by macrophages. Yet, they manage to evade to propagate within the macrophage thanks to multiple mechanisms of immune modulation and evasion. 

Previous publications of this group that showed how Leishmania is able to impair maturation of the phagolysosome (for example delay acidification) by interfering with phagolysosome associated proteins. Their previous work had pointed to Leishmania‘s surface lipophosphoglycan LPG. Following their work on the phagosome, they look to see if there are other molecules that are also altered after Leishmania infection, stumbling upon VAMP3 and VAMP8, two SNAREs that are cleaved after infection. They find that this time this time this cleavage is due to another important virulence factor of Leishmania namely surface protease GP63.  This protease has been shown to have many immunomodulatory properties and cleaving many important macrophage proteins (phosphatases, transcription factors…) and now there is a new one on the list.  The authors show that VAMP8 is important for cross-presentation of antigens from MHCII to MHCI. To show this they create ovalbumin expressing expressing L. major and see how presence or absence of GP63 could affect activation of OT-II (ovalbumin-reactive T cells) after coculture with macrophages. Importance of VAMP8 in cross presentation is also shown by using VAMP8-/- cells.

SNAREs are important in vesicle transport and fusion. Therefore they can be targeted by pathogens like Leishmania to impair effective pathogen killing (Image from Wikipedia).


What is nice about this study is that by studying host-parasite interactions and immune modulation, it also helps us learn more about the innate immune mechanisms and communication of the innate and adaptive immune systems. 


Matheoud D, Moradin N, Bellemare-Pelletier A, Shio MT, Hong WJ, Olivier M, Gagnon E, Desjardins M, & Descoteaux A (2013). Leishmania Evades Host Immunity by Inhibiting Antigen Cross-Presentation through Direct Cleavage of the SNARE VAMP8. Cell host & microbe, 14 (1), 15-25 PMID: 23870310

Olivier M, Atayde VD, Isnard A, Hassani K, & Shio MT (2012). Leishmania virulence factors: focus on the metalloprotease GP63. Microbes and infection / Institut Pasteur, 14 (15), 1377-89 PMID: 22683718


Phosphatases for and against: Trichuris vs. Leishmania

Posted by Kasra

Trichuris trichiura adult male

Trichuris trichiura adult male – Image taken from DPDx

Trichuris, is an intestinal roundworm, also known as whipworm, that can be transmitted through ingestion of food contaminated with its eggs. The larvae hatch inside the small intestine and complete their life cycle to adults in the cecum. After maturation, which can take about 3 months, the female worm lays thousands of eggs per day. The parasite can stay in the intetine between 1-5 years. Trichuris trichiura is a parasite of humans, while Trichuris muris is a mouse parasite, used usually as the animal model to study its infection.

In contrast to intracellular pathogens, a Th1 response is non-protective in infection with large extracellular pathogens such as intestinal helminths. For instance, during infection with Trichuris muris, a Th2 response comprising IL-4 and Ig-E production leads to resolution of infection, while a Th1 response comprising IFN-gamma, IL-12 and IL-18 is not protective.

S Hadidi et al. look at regulation of the immune response to T. muris and focus on the importance of the macrophage lipid phosphatase Ship1. Ship1 or Sh-2 containing inositol 5′ phosphatase 1 is a regulator of the PI3K pathway. Hadidi et al. show that Ship1 expression is upregulated steadily following T. muris infection. Ship1-/- mice have higher parasite burden and IFN-gamma while lower levels of IL-13. Also, Ship1-/- macrophages produce more IL-12. Blocking IL-12 or IFN-gamma by blocking antibodies rescued the phenotype by reducing worm burden and increase in IL-13. Thus, they found how activity of this phosphatase can direct the immune response against T. muris infection. It would be very interesting now to see what stimuli induce upregulation of Ship1 and also what are this enzyme’s substrates, which are so important for production of IL-12 by macrophages.

Similar to this story, a few years ago, Abu-Dayyeh et al. and Gomez et al. showed that activating phosphatases is important for Leishmania to establish its infection. Being an intracellular parasite, a Th1 response, with large amounts of IFN-gamma would be protective against Leishmania. So in this context, Leishmania-mediated activation of many phosphatases (most importantly SHP-1) leading to inhibition of IL-12 production leads to disease progression, because it skews the immune response towards Th2. In this situation, Leishmania takes advantage of the phosphatase’s function.

Hadidi S, Antignano F, Hughes MR, Wang SK, Snyder K, Sammis GM, Kerr WG, McNagny KM, & Zaph C (2012). Myeloid cell-specific expression of Ship1 regulates IL-12 production and immunity to helminth infection. Mucosal immunology, 5 (5), 535-43 PMID: 22535180

Abu-Dayyeh I, Shio MT, Sato S, Akira S, Cousineau B, & Olivier M (2008). Leishmania-induced IRAK-1 inactivation is mediated by SHP-1 interacting with an evolutionarily conserved KTIM motif. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 2 (12) PMID: 19104650
Gomez MA, Contreras I, Hallé M, Tremblay ML, McMaster RW, & Olivier M (2009). Leishmania GP63 alters host signaling through cleavage-activated protein tyrosine phosphatases. Science signaling, 2 (90) PMID: 19797268

We know Nirtic Oxide is produced when SHP-1 is absent, but why??

Posted by: Issa Abu-Dayyeh

The exact role played by the protein tyrosine phosphatase (SHP-1) in the negative regulation of macrophage functions has been an active area of research for many years. In fact, SHP-1 deficient mice are hyper-inflammatory. They lose their hair “for God’s sake” due to exaggerated inflammatory responses in the skin area! (hence their name motheaten). But what does this tell us? It tells us a lot of pathways are simply “on fire”. To dissect every single pathway controlled by this PTP is a humongous job, and the best approach in my opinion is to try to focus, and dissect a pathway at a time and a function at a time. So, what did we attempt to do in our most recent publication (Blanchette, J. et al.) in Immunology (2008)?

The paper explores the signaling pathways that seem to be major contributors to NO production in SHP-1 deficient macrophages. NO production is driven by a gene known as iNOS whose expression is driven by several transcription factors, most importantly: Nf-kB, STAT, and AP-1. One of those transcription factors “AP-1” is activated by a MAP kinase called JNK.

This work utilizes inhibitors of many of these members to see which of them will be able to suppress that excess NO production observed in SHP-1 deficient macrophages in an effort to understand how SHP-1 causes this increased NO production.

To save you the dull experimental details…Results showed that the exaggerated NO production in SHP-1-/- macrophages seems to be due to an increased JNK/AP-1 and not NF-kB activity.

And so what? some people might ask!

Well…I agree a finding like this might not find a cure to leishmaniasis. Nevertheless, bearing in mind that NF-kB translocation is increased in the absence of SHP-1, this paper then suggests something rather important. This increased NF-kB activity is not contributing to iNOS transcription. What is it doing then? and how can iNOS be differentially regulated? These are questions that await answers. (If somebody has answers, I will be glad to hear from them).

This work simply broadens our knowledge about where SHP-1 exerts its effects, and by knowing how, we can probably try to eventually revert some of those actions during the course of a Leishmania infection and help find an effective drug against leishmaniasis that is not as toxic as the ones available nowadays…

A block added to the wall. that is how I see it.

If you are interested in viewing the paper, please visit it here