Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Simultaneous gene expression profiling in human macrophages infected with Leishmania major parasites using SAGE

Fatma Z Guerfali12, Dhafer Laouini12*, Lamia Guizani-Tabbane12, Florence Ottones23, Khadija Ben-Aissa12, Alia Benkahla12, Laurent Manchon4, David Piquemal4, Sondos Smandi12, Ons Mghirbi12, Thérèse Commes23, Jacques Marti23 and Koussay Dellagi12

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire d'Immuno-Pathologie, Vaccinologie et Génétique Moléculaire (LIVGM), WHO Collaborating Center for Research and Training in Leishmaniasis, Institut Pasteur de Tunis, 13 place Pasteur, BP 74, 1002 Tunis-Belvédère, Tunisia

2 Laboratoire International Associé (LIA) "Ingénierie Biomoléculaire", Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France

3 Groupe d'Etude des Transcriptomes (GET), Institut de Génétique Humaine, UPR CNRS 1142, 141, rue de la Cardonille, Montpellier cedex5, 34396, France

4 Skuld-Tech, 88, cour des Camisards, Montpellier, 34080, France

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:238  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-238

Published: 21 May 2008



Leishmania (L) are intracellular protozoan parasites that are able to survive and replicate within the harsh and potentially hostile phagolysosomal environment of mammalian mononuclear phagocytes. A complex interplay then takes place between the macrophage (MΦ) striving to eliminate the pathogen and the parasite struggling for its own survival.

To investigate this host-parasite conflict at the transcriptional level, in the context of monocyte-derived human MΦs (MDM) infection by L. major metacyclic promastigotes, the quantitative technique of serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) was used.


After extracting mRNA from resting human MΦs, Leishmania-infected human MΦs and L. major parasites, three SAGE libraries were constructed and sequenced generating up to 28,173; 57,514 and 33,906 tags respectively (corresponding to 12,946; 23,442 and 9,530 unique tags). Using computational data analysis and direct comparison to 357,888 publicly available experimental human tags, the parasite and the host cell transcriptomes were then simultaneously characterized from the mixed cellular extract, confidently discriminating host from parasite transcripts. This procedure led us to reliably assign 3,814 tags to MΦs' and 3,666 tags to L. major parasites transcripts. We focused on these, showing significant changes in their expression that are likely to be relevant to the pathogenesis of parasite infection: (i) human MΦs genes, belonging to key immune response proteins (e.g., IFNγ pathway, S100 and chemokine families) and (ii) a group of Leishmania genes showing a preferential expression at the parasite's intra-cellular developing stage.


Dual SAGE transcriptome analysis provided a useful, powerful and accurate approach to discriminating genes of human or parasitic origin in Leishmania-infected human MΦs. The findings presented in this work suggest that the Leishmania parasite modulates key transcripts in human MΦs that may be beneficial for its establishment and survival. Furthermore, these results provide an overview of gene expression at two developmental stages of the parasite, namely metacyclic promastigotes and intracellular amastigotes and indicate a broad difference between their transcriptomic profiles. Finally, our reported set of expressed genes will be useful in future rounds of data mining and gene annotation.