An RNA Interference (RNAi) Toolkit and Its Utility for Functional Genetic Analysis of Leishmania (Viannia)

Lon Fye Lye, Katherine L. Owens, Soojin Jang, Joseph E. Marcus, Erin A. Brettmann, Stephen M. Beverley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful tool whose efficacy against a broad range of targets enables functional genetic tests individually or systematically. However, the RNAi pathway has been lost in evolution by a variety of eukaryotes including most Leishmania sp. RNAi was retained in species of the Leishmania subgenus Viannia, and here we describe the development, optimization, and application of RNAi tools to the study of L. (Viannia) braziliensis (Lbr). We developed vectors facilitating generation of long-hairpin or “stem-loop” (StL) RNAi knockdown constructs, using GatewayTM site-specific recombinase technology. A survey of applications of RNAi in L. braziliensis included genes interspersed within multigene tandem arrays such as quinonoid dihydropteridine reductase (QDPR), a potential target or modulator of antifolate sensitivity. Other tests include genes involved in cell differentiation and amastigote proliferation (A600), and essential genes of the intraflagellar transport (IFT) pathway. We tested a range of stem lengths targeting the L. braziliensis hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyl transferase (HGPRT) and reporter firefly luciferase (LUC) genes and found that the efficacy of RNAi increased with stem length, and fell off greatly below about 128 nt. We used the StL length dependency to establish a useful ‘hypomorphic’ approach not possible with other gene ablation strategies, with shorter IFT140 stems yielding viable cells with compromised flagellar morphology. We showed that co-selection for RNAi against adenine phosphoryl transferase (APRT1) using 4-aminopyrazolpyrimidine (APP) could increase the efficacy of RNAi against reporter constructs, a finding that may facilitate improvements in future work. Thus, for many genes, RNAi provides a useful tool for studying Leishmania gene function with some unique advantages.

Original languageEnglish
Article number93
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Leishmania braziliensis
  • Leishmania guyanensis
  • gene knockdowns
  • hypomorphic mutations
  • intraflagellar transport
  • quinonoid dihydropteridine reductase (QDPR)
  • site specific recombinase
  • trypanosomatid protozoan parasite
  • virulence


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