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In murine cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania major (Lm), resistance often associates with the outgrowth of Lm-specific Th1 cells. Parasites are eliminated by Th1-mediated activation of infected macrophages (M phi) which destroy Lm by producing toxic nitrogen and oxygen radicals. The cytokine IFN-alpha activates microbicidal functions of M phis and facilitates outgrowth of Th1 cells. Therefore, we compared the course of infection with Lm in resistant C57BL/6 mice, bearing the If-1h high expression allele for IFN-alpha/beta, with the congenic B6.C-H-28c mouse, bearing the If-1I low expression allele from the Lm-susceptible BALB/c strain. We observed that B6.C-H-28c animals developed up to 70% larger footpad lesions and harbored up to 1000-fold more parasites than C57BL/6 mice. Furthermore, peak Lm-specific IFN-gamma production in the B6.C-H-28c animals was lower and delayed by approximately 2 weeks, whereas IL-4 production was higher and persisted approximately 2 weeks longer. Since these results suggested that IFN-alpha/beta plays a protective role in mice infected with Lm, we determined whether infusing B6.C-H-28c mice with IFN-alpha would influence the course of infection with Lm. Unfortunately, the mice developed severe peritoneal hemorrhaging in response to injection with IFN-alpha. Therefore, we examined the ability of IFN-alpha to activate M phis to destroy Lm in vitro. We observed that rIFN-alpha could synergize with subactivating doses of LPS to activate both C57BL/6 and BALB/c peritoneal M phis to produce NO and to kill intracellular Lm. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that type I interferons may play a protective role in cutaneous leishmaniasis.

Original publication





Experimental parasitology

Publication Date





136 - 143


Department of Tropical Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Th1 Cells, Macrophages, Peritoneal, Animals, Mice, Inbred BALB C, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Leishmania major, Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous, Disease Susceptibility, Nitric Oxide, Lipopolysaccharides, Interferon Type I, Interferon-alpha, Interferon-beta, Recombinant Proteins, Macrophage Activation, Immunity, Innate