Evidence of Sexual Reproduction in the Protozoan Parasite Leishmania (Kinetoplastida: Trypanosomatidae)

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  • Department of Biology, Youngstown State University, Division of Experimental Therapeutics, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, Youngstown, Ohio
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Parasitic protozoa of the genus Leishmania (Kinetoplastida: Trypanosomatidae) are generally thought to multiply by binary fission; however, data from quantitative microspectrophotometry indicate that nuclear fusion or sexual reproduction takes place in the intracellular amastigote form. Among several different Leishmania species, the mean ± SD nuclear DNA content of all promastigotes (extracellular form) and of some amastigotes (intracellular form) in macrophages was 0.098 ± 0.032 relative units; in contrast, other amastigotes within the same macrophage had a mean ± SD nuclear DNA content of 0.219 ± 0.050. The latter population of amastigotes are apparently produced when the nuclei of a pair of 0.098 amastigotes fuse. These 0.219 amastigotes later go through what is probably the typical meiotic cycle to reform the 0.098 condition we observed among promastigotes. The demonstration of sexual reproduction in Leishmania has important implications for the future direction of research on this medically important parasite.