10-Formyl tetrahydrofolate (10-CHO-THF) is a key metabolite in C1 carbon metabolism, arising through the action of formate-tetrahydrofolate ligase (FTL) and/or 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (DHCH). Leishmania major possesses single DHCH1 and FTL genes encoding exclusively cytosolic proteins, unlike other organisms where isoforms occur in the mitochondrion as well. Recombinant DHCH1 showed typical NADP+-dependent methylene tetrahydrofolate DH and 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate CH activities, and the DH activity was potently inhibited by a substrate analogue 5,10-CO-THF (Ki 105 nM), as was Leishmania growth (EC50 1.1 M). Previous studies showed null ftl - mutants were normal, raising the possibility that loss of the purine synthetic pathway had rendered 10-CHO-THF dispensable in evolution. We were unable to generate dhch1- null mutants by gene replacement, despite using a wide spectrum of nutritional supplements expected to bypass DHCH function. We applied an improved method for testing essential genes in Leishmania, based on segregational loss of episomal complementing genes rather than transfection; analysis of ∼1400 events without successful loss of DHCH1 again established its requirement. Lastly, we employed 'genetic metabolite complementation' using ectopically expressed FTL as an alternative source of 10-CHO-THF; now dhch1- null parasites were readily obtained. These data establish a requirement for 10-CHO-THF metabolism in L. major, and provide genetic and pharmacological validation of DHCH as a target for chemotherapy, in this and potentially other protozoan parasites.