Protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania are the causative agent of leishmaniasis, a disease whose manifestations in humans range from mild cutaneous lesions to fatal visceral infections. Human visceral leishmaniasis is caused by Leishmania donovani. Long-term culture in vitro leads to the attenuation of the parasite. This loss of parasite virulence is associated with the expression of a developmentally regulated UDP-Galactose/N-acetylglucosamine beta 1-4 galactosyltransferase and galactose terminal glycoconjugates as determined by their agglutination with the pea nut agglutinin (PNA). Thus, all promastigotes passaged for more than 11 times were 100% agglutinated with PNA, and represent a homogeneous population of avirulent parasites. Identical concentrations of PNA failed to agglutinate promastigotes passaged for < or =5 times. These PNA(-) promastigotes were virulent. Promastigotes passaged from 5 to 10 times showed a mixed population. The identity of populations defined by virulence and PNA agglutination was confirmed by isolating PNA(+) avirulent and PNA(-) virulent clones from the 7th passage promastigotes. Only the PNA(+) clones triggered macrophage microbicidal activity. The PNA(+) clones lacked lipophosphoglycan. Intravenous administration of [(14)C] galactose-labeled parasite in BALB/c mice resulted in rapid clearance of the parasite from blood with a concomitant accumulation in the liver. By enzymatic assay and RT-PCR we have shown the association of a UDP-Galactose/N-acetylglucosamine beta1,4 galactosyltransferase with only the attenuated clones. By immunofluorescence we demonstrated that the enzyme is located in the Golgi apparatus. By western blot analysis and SDS-PAGE of the affinity-purified protein, we have been able to identify a 29 KDa galactose terminal protein from the avirulent clones.
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