The intracellular protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania
are the causative agents of leishmaniasis, a vector-borne disease of major public health concern, estimated to affect 12 million people worldwide. The clinical manifestations of leishmaniasis are highly variable and can range from self-healing localized cutaneous lesions to life-threatening disseminated visceral disease. Once introduced into the skin by infected sandflies, Leishmania
parasites interact with a variety of immune cells, such as neutrophils, monocytes, dendritic cells (DCs), and macrophages. The resolution of infection requires a finely tuned interplay between innate and adaptive immune cells, culminating with the activation of microbicidal functions and parasite clearance within host cells. However, several factors derived from the host, insect vector, and Leishmania
spp., including the presence of a double-stranded RNA virus (LRV), can modulate the host immunity and influence the disease outcome. In this review, we discuss the immune mechanisms underlying the main forms of leishmaniasis, some of the factors involved with the establishment of infection and disease severity, and potential approaches for vaccine and drug development focused on host immunity.
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