Diversity and dissemination of viruses in pathogenic protozoa

Senne Heeren, Ilse Maes, Mandy Sanders, Lon Fye Lye, Vanessa Adaui, Jorge Arevalo, Alejandro Llanos-Cuentas, Lineth Garcia, Philippe Lemey, Stephen M. Beverley, James A. Cotton, Jean Claude Dujardin, Frederik Van den Broeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth and play a significant role in the evolution of many organisms and ecosystems. In pathogenic protozoa, the presence of viruses has been linked to an increased risk of treatment failure and severe clinical outcome. Here, we studied the molecular epidemiology of the zoonotic disease cutaneous leishmaniasis in Peru and Bolivia through a joint evolutionary analysis of Leishmania braziliensis and their dsRNA Leishmania virus 1. We show that parasite populations circulate in tropical rainforests and are associated with single viral lineages that appear in low prevalence. In contrast, groups of hybrid parasites are geographically and ecologically more dispersed and associated with an increased prevalence, diversity and spread of viruses. Our results suggest that parasite gene flow and hybridization increased the frequency of parasite-virus symbioses, a process that may change the epidemiology of leishmaniasis in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8343
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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