Improvements in transfection efficiency and tests of RNA interference (RNAi) approaches in the protozoan parasite Leishmania

Kelly A. Robinson, Stephen M. Beverley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Approaches which eliminate mRNA expression directly are ideally suited for reverse genetics applications in eukaryotic microbes which are asexual diploids, such as the protozoan parasite Leishmania. RNA interference (RNAi) approaches have been successful in many species, including the related parasite Trypanosoma brucei. For RNAi tests in Leishmania, we developed improved protocols for transient and stable DNA transfection, attaining efficiencies of up to 25 and 3%, respectively. This facilitated RNAi tests at the α-tubulin locus, whose inhibition gives a strong lethal phenotype in trypanosomatids. However, transient or stable transfection of DNAs encoding mRNAs for an α-tubulin stem-loop construct and GFP to monitor transfection resulted in no effect on parasite morphology, growth or tubulin expression in Leishmania major or L. donovani. Transient transfection of a 24-nucleotide double-stranded α-tubulin siRNA also had no effect. Similar results were obtained in studies targeting an introduced GFP gene with a GFP stem-loop construct. These data suggest that typical RNAi strategies may not work effectively in Leishmania, and raise the possibility that Leishmania is naturally deficient for RNAi activity, like Saccharomyces cerevisae. The implications to parasite biology, gene amplification, and genetic analysis are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-228
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular and Biochemical Parasitology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2003


  • Double-stranded RNA
  • Genetic analysis
  • Leishmania donovani
  • Leishmania major
  • RNAi
  • Transient transfection


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