Genomic insights into virulence mechanisms of Leishmania donovani: evidence from an atypical strain

Sumudu R. Samarasinghe, Nilakshi Samaranayake, Udeshika L. Kariyawasam, Yamuna D. Siriwardana, Hideo Imamura, Nadira D. Karunaweera

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Background: Leishmaniasis is a neglected tropical disease with diverse clinical phenotypes, determined by parasite, host and vector interactions. Despite the advances in molecular biology and the availability of more Leishmania genome references in recent years, the association between parasite species and distinct clinical phenotypes remains poorly understood. We present a genomic comparison of an atypical variant of Leishmania donovani from a South Asian focus, where it mostly causes cutaneous form of leishmaniasis.

Results: Clinical isolates from six cutaneous leishmaniasis patients (CL-SL); 2 of whom were poor responders to antimony (CL-PR), and two visceral leishmaniasis patients (VL-SL) were sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq platform. Chromosome aneuploidy was observed in both groups but was more frequent in CL-SL. 248 genes differed by 2 fold or more in copy number among the two groups. Genes involved in amino acid use (LdBPK_271940) and energy metabolism (LdBPK_271950), predominated the VL-SL group with the same distribution pattern reflected in gene tandem arrays. Genes encoding amastins were present in higher copy numbers in VL-SL and CL-PR as well as being among predicted pseudogenes in CL-SL. Both chromosome and SNP profiles showed CL-SL and VL-SL to form two distinct groups. While expected heterozygosity was much higher in VL-SL, SNP allele frequency patterns did not suggest potential recent recombination breakpoints. The SNP/indel profile obtained using the more recently generated PacBio sequence did not vary markedly from that based on the standard LdBPK282A1 reference. Several genes previously associated with resistance to antimonials were observed in higher copy numbers in the analysis of CL-PR. H-locus amplification was seen in one cutaneous isolate which however did not belong to the CL-PR group.

Conclusions: The data presented suggests that intra species variations at chromosome and gene level are more likely to influence differences in tropism as well as response to treatment, and contributes to greater understanding of parasite molecular mechanisms underpinning these differences. These findings should be substantiated with a larger sample number and expression/functional studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number843
JournalBMC Genomics
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis
  • High throughput sequencing
  • Aneuploidy
  • Copy number variations
  • SNPs
  • Drug resistance
  • Tropism
  • Indian subcontinent
  • Virulence genes
  • A2


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