The abundant cell surface glycolipid lipophosphoglycan (LPG) was implicated in many steps of the Leishmania infectious cycle by biochemical tests. The presence of other abundant surface or secreted glycoconjugates sharing LPG domains, however, has led to uncertainty about the relative contribution of LPG in vivo. Here we used an Leishmania major lpg1- mutant, which lacks LPG alone and shows attenuated virulence, to dissect the role of LPG in the establishment of macrophage infections in vivo. lpg1 - was highly susceptible to human complement, had lost the ability to inhibit phagolysosomal fusion transiently, and was oxidant sensitive. Studies of mouse mutants defective in relevant defense mechanisms confirmed the role of LPG in oxidant resistance but called into question the importance of transient inhibition of phagolysosomal fusion for Leishmania macrophage survival. Moreover, the limited lytic activity of mouse complement appears to be an ineffective pathogen defense mechanism in vitro and in vivo, unlike human hosts. In contrast, lpg1- parasites bound C3b and resisted low pH and proteases normally, entered macrophages efficiently and silently, and continued to inhibit host-signaling pathways. These studies illustrate the value of mechanistic approaches focusing on both parasite and host defense pathways in dissecting the specific biological roles of complex virulence factors such as LPG.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9536-9541
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 5 2003


  • Adhesin
  • Inhibition of macrophage activation
  • Oxidant resistance
  • Phosphoglycans
  • Trypanosomatid protozoan parasite


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