Interleukin 1 (IL 1) is a principal mediator of the host immune response to microbial challenge. Accessory cells of the monocyte-macrophage series are a major source of this cytokine and are also chronically parasitized by protozoa of the genus Leishmania. This suggests that characterization of the macrophage IL 1 response to Leishmania would increase our understanding of the regulation of host immunity to these organisms. In the present study, the macrophage IL 1 response to Leishmania donovani was examined because infections with this organism have findings consistent with parasite-specific T cell unresponsiveness. Cytokine activity was measured either by direct stimulation or by co-stimulation of thymocytes. Conditioned media from BALB/c resident peritoneal macrophages infected with amastigotes of L. donovani contained no more IL 1 than did supernatant fluids of control cells. In contrast, supernatants from cells stimulated with lipopolysaccharide or heat-killed Listeria monocytogenes had significantly increased cytokine content. Resident cells infected with L. donovani for 4 hr before being stimulated with Listeria demonstrated a suppressed IL 1 response (approximately 40% of Listeria alone) to this secondary particulate stimulus. In contrast, the secondary response of leishmania-preinfected cells to lipopolysaccharide was not affected. To examine whether accessory cell nonresponsiveness to L. donovani (with respect to IL 1) was related to the state of macrophage activation, elicited peritoneal macrophages obtained by injection of proteose peptone were also studied. These cells responded to stimulation with lipopolysaccharide and fixed Staphylococcus aureus with increases in intracellular, membrane, and secreted cytokine activities. In contrast, L. donovani failed to induce any of these activities. This was found to be the case irrespective of whether amastigotes were alive or killed or opsonized with specific antibodies. Elicited cells preinfected with Leishmania responded normally to secondary stimulation with lipopolysaccharide, but not S. aureus (64% of Staphylococcus alone). In addition, attachment and penetration of L. donovani promastigotes and their subsequent conversion to amastigotes within macrophages failed to induce IL 1 synthesis. The findings of this study indicate that L. donovani has the ability to both evade and suppress the macrophage IL 1 response. Because this monokine provides an obligatory signal during macrophage-dependent T cell activation, evasion of signal transduction for IL 1 synthesis may be related to defects in cell-mediated immunity which occur during infections with this organism.

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