Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is a parasitic infectious disease that causes significant morbidity and mortality in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Although infections with visceralizing Leishmania may be asymptomatic, factors such as undernutrition increase the likelihood of progressing to clinical disease. Protein malnutrition, the most deleterious cause of malnutrition in developing countries, has been considered as a primary risk factor for the development of clinical VL. However, data regarding the immunological basis of this association are scarce. With the aim to analyze the effects of protein malnutrition on Leishmania infantum infection, we used BALB/c mice subjected to control or low protein isocaloric diets. Each animal group was divided into two subgroups and one was infected with L. infantum resulting in four study groups: Animals fed 14% protein diet (CP), animals fed 4% protein diet (LP), animals fed 14% protein diet and infected (CPi), and animals fed 4% protein diet and infected (LPi).The susceptibility to L. infantum infection and immune responses were assessed in terms of body and lymphoid organ weight, parasite load, lymphocyte subpopulations, and cytokine expression. LPi mice had a significant reduction of body and lymphoid organ weight and exhibited a severe decrease of lymphoid follicles in the spleen. Moreover, LPi animals showed a significant decrease in CD4+CD8+ Tcells in the thymus, whereas there was an increase of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells percentages in the spleen. Notably, the cytokine mRNA levels in the thymus and spleen of protein malnourished-infected animals were altered compared to the CP mice. Protein malnutrition results in a drastic dysregulation of T cells and cytokine expression in the thymus and spleen of L. infantum-infected BALB/c mice, which may lead to defective regulation of the thymocyte population and an impaired splenic immune response, accelerating the events of a normal course of infection.
Cuervo-Escobar, S., Losada-Barragán, M., Umaña-Pérez, A., Porrozzi, R., Saboia-Vahia, L., Miranda, L. H. M., … Stager, S. (2014). T-Cell populations and cytokine expression are impaired in thymus and spleen of protein malnourished balb/c mice infected with leishmania infantum. PLoS ONE, 9(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114584