Analysis of the Leishmania donovani transcriptome reveals an ordered progression of transient and permanent changes in gene expression during differentiation

A. Saxena, T. Lahav, N. Holland, G. Aggarwal, A. Anupama, Y. Huang, H. Volpin, P. J. Myler, D. Zilberstein

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134 Scopus citations


Leishmania donovani is an intracellular protozoan parasite that causes kala-azar in humans. During infection the extracellular insect forms (promastigotes) undergo rapid differentiation to intracellular amastigotes that proliferates in phagolysosomes of mammalian macrophages. We used microarray-based expression profiling to investigate the time-course of changes in RNA abundance during promastigote-to-amastigote differentiation in a host-free system that mimics this process. These studies revealed that several hundred genes underwent an ordered progression of transient or permanent up- and down-regulation during differentiation. Genes that were permanently up-regulated in amastigotes were enriched for transporters and surface proteins, but under-represented in genes involved in protein and other metabolism. Most of these changes occurred late in the differentiation process, when morphological differentiation was essentially complete. Down-regulated genes were over-represented in those involved in cell motility, growth and/or maintenance, and these changes generally occurred earlier in the process. Genes that were transiently up- or down-regulated during differentiation included those encoding heat shock proteins, ubiquitin hydrolases, RNA binding proteins, protein kinases, a protein phosphatase, and a histone deacetylase. These results suggest that changes in mRNA abundance may be important in signal transduction, as well as protein and mRNA turnover, during differentiation. In addition to these mRNA changes, other transcripts including one or more rRNAs and snoRNAs, and non-coding RNAs from several telomeres, also showed substantial changes in abundance during the differentiation process. This paper provides the first genome-scale quantitative analysis of gene expression during the transition from promastigotes to amastigotes and demonstrates the utility of the host-free differentiation system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-65
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular and Biochemical Parasitology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Axenic amastigotes
  • Differentiation
  • Gene expression
  • L. donovani
  • Transcript abundance


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