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Biology

Causal Agent:

Leishmaniasis is a vector-borne disease that is transmitted by sandflies and caused by obligate intracellular protozoa of the genus Leishmania. Human infection is caused by about 21 of 30 species that infect mammals. These include the L. donovani complex with 2 species (L. donovani, L. infantum [also known as L. chagasi in the New World]); the L. mexicana complex with 3 main species (L. mexicana, L. amazonensis, and L. venezuelensis); L. tropica; L. major; L. aethiopica; and the subgenus Viannia with 4 main species (L. (V.) braziliensis, L. (V.) guyanensis, L. (V.) panamensis, and L. (V.) peruviana). The different species are morphologically indistinguishable, but they can be differentiated by isoenzyme analysis, molecular methods, or monoclonal antibodies.

Life Cycle:

Leishmania lifecycle

Leishmaniasis is transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies. The sandflies inject the infective stage (i.e., promastigotes) from their proboscis during blood meals The number 1. Promastigotes that reach the puncture wound are phagocytized by macrophages The number 2 and other types of mononuclear phagocytic cells. Progmastigotes transform in these cells into the tissue stage of the parasite (i.e., amastigotes) The number 3, which multiply by simple division and proceed to infect other mononuclear phagocytic cells The number 4. Parasite, host, and other factors affect whether the infection becomes symptomatic and whether cutaneous or visceral leishmaniasis results. Sandflies become infected by ingesting infected cells during blood meals (The number 5, The number 6). In sandflies, amastigotes transform into promastigotes, develop in the gut The number 7 (in the hindgut for leishmanial organisms in the Viannia subgenus; in the midgut for organisms in the Leishmania subgenus), and migrate to the proboscis The number 8.

Life cycle image and information courtesy of DPDx.

  • Page last reviewed: January 10, 2013
  • Page last updated: January 10, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria
    • Notice: Linking to a non-federal site does not constitute an endorsement by HHS, CDC or any of its employees of the sponsors or the information and products presented on the site.
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