Cell Stress and Chaperones

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 783–789 | Cite as

Leishmania mexicana differentiation involves a selective plasma membrane autophagic-like process

  • Francehuli DaggerEmail author
  • Camila Bengio
  • Angel Martinez
  • Carlos Ayesta
Short Communication


Parasites of the Leishmania genus, which are the causative agents of leishmaniasis, display a complex life cycle, from a flagellated form (promastigotes) residing in the midgut of the phlebotomine vector to a non-flagellated form (amastigote) invading the mammalian host. The cellular process for the conversion between these forms is an interesting biological phenomenon involving modulation of the plasma membrane. In this study, we describe a selective autophagic-like process during the in vitro differentiation of Leishmania mexicana promastigote to amastigote-like cells. This process is responsible for size reduction and shape change of the promastigote (15–20 μm long) to the rounded amastigote-like form (4–5 μm long), identical to the one that infects host macrophages. This autophagic-like process is characterized by a profound folding of the plasma membrane and the presence of abundant cytoplasmic lipid droplets that may be the product of changes in the lipid metabolism. The key feature for the differentiation process at either pH 7.0 or pH 5.5 is the shift in temperature from 25 to 35 °C. Flagella shortening during the differentiation process appears as the product of continuous flagellar microtubular disassembly that is also accompanied by changes in mitochondrion localization. Drugs directed at blocking the parasite autophagic-like process could be important as new strategies to fight the disease.


Leishmania Differentiation Plasma membrane Autophagy 



We are grateful to Ana Rascón for the critical reading of this manuscript. Our deep gratitude goes to Irene Dunia and Anne-Lise Haenni for the helpful discussions and critical revision of the final draft. We are indebted to Ilse Hurbain for the cell quantification assay. Finally, we thank the Centro de Microscopia Electrónica de la Facultad de Ciencias, UCV, Venezuela, for the electron microscope facilities.


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Copyright information

© Cell Stress Society International 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francehuli Dagger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Camila Bengio
    • 1
  • Angel Martinez
    • 1
  • Carlos Ayesta
    • 2
  1. 1.Instituto de Biología Experimental, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad Central de VenezuelaCaracasVenezuela
  2. 2.Laboratorio de Fotografía, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad Central de VenezuelaCaracasVenezuela

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