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Identification of geographically distributed sub-populations of Leishmania (Leishmania) major by microsatellite analysis

Amer Al-Jawabreh12, Stephanie Diezmann1, Michaela Müller1, Thierry Wirth3, Lionel F Schnur4, Margarita V Strelkova5, Dmitri A Kovalenko6, Shavkat A Razakov6, Jan Schwenkenbecher1, Katrin Kuhls1 and Gabriele Schönian1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Parasitology, Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Dorotheenstr. 96, D-10098 Berlin, Germany

2 Leishmania Research Unit, Jericho, The Palestinian Authority

3 Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 16 rue Buffon, 72231 Paris cedex 05, France

4 Department of Parasitology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, P. O. Box 12272, Jerusalem 91120, Israel

5 Department of Medical Protozoology, Martsinovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology and Tropical Medicine, Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy, M. Pirogovskaya 20, 119830 Moscow, Russia

6 Isaev Research Institute of Medical Parasitology, Department of Leishmania Epidemiology, ul Isaeva 38, 703005 Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:183  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-183

Published: 24 June 2008



Leishmania (Leishmania) major, one of the agents causing cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) in humans, is widely distributed in the Old World where different species of wild rodent and phlebotomine sand fly serve as animal reservoir hosts and vectors, respectively. Despite this, strains of L. (L.) major isolated from many different sources over many years have proved to be relatively uniform. To investigate the population structure of the species highly polymorphic microsatellite markers were employed for greater discrimination among it's otherwise closely related strains, an approach applied successfully to other species of Leishmania.


Multilocus Microsatellite Typing (MLMT) based on 10 different microsatellite markers was applied to 106 strains of L. (L.) major from different regions where it is endemic. On applying a Bayesian model-based approach, three main populations were identified, corresponding to three separate geographical regions: Central Asia (CA); the Middle East (ME); and Africa (AF). This was congruent with phylogenetic reconstructions based on genetic distances. Re-analysis separated each of the populations into two sub-populations. The two African sub-populations did not correlate well with strains' geographical origin. Strains falling into the sub-populations CA and ME did mostly group according to their place of isolation although some anomalies were seen, probably, owing to human migration.


The model- and distance-based analyses of the microsatellite data exposed three main populations of L. (L.) major, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, each of which separated into two sub-populations. This probably correlates with the different species of rodent host.