The development of Leishmania (Viannia) panamensis in a natural sand fly host, Lutzomyia gomezi, was studied by light and transmission electron microscopy. New aspects of peripylarian parasite behavior and morphology in the sand fly gut, early blood-meal stages, and ultrastructural development in the anterior gut were documented.
Eight distinct morphological forms were observed in the life cycle of the parasite within the insect. In the bloodmeal, amastigotes (1) transformed into stumpy promastigotes (2) which rapidly multiplied, resulting in spatulate-shaped nectomonad promastigotes (3) and elongate nectomonad promastigotes (4). These latter forms migrated primarily into the hindgut, where both were observed attached (=haptomonad phase) to the cuticular intima by hemidesmosomes within extremely shortened flagella. Spatulate haptomonad promastigotes predominated, colonizing the entire length of the hindgut, with the greatest density at 2 disjunct sites: the pylorus/ileum and the anterior rectum/rectal sac. Paramastigotes and dividing flagellates were rare. Some parasites migrated directly to the cardia/stomodeal valve region without a hindgut phase; however, major movement anteriorly was from the hindgut beginning at 6 days postinfection. In the cardia lumen, dividing short Type A promastigotes (5) predominated, intermixed with short Type B promastigotes with longer flagella (6). Paramastigotes (7) were free-swimming in the lumen as well as attached to the stomodeal valve. The primary colonizers of the valve were pear-shaped haptomonad promastigotes (8), with flagella of variable lengths and multi-segmented hemidesmosomal attachment points to the intima.
Promastigotes and paramastigotes colonized the esophagus-pharynx region and attached to the foregut lining by flagellar hemidesmosomes. Both forms may represent infective stages of L. (V.) panamensis; however, no parasites were detected in the cibarium or proboscis. L. (V.) panamensis appeared well-adapted to the gut of Lu. gomezi, multiplying extensively at 2 sites, changing morphological form, and adhering to host surfaces by variously modified flagellar hemidesmosomes.