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Open Access Open Badges Research article

IL-4 contributes to failure, and colludes with IL-10 to exacerbate Leishmania donovani infection following administration of a subcutaneous leishmanial antigen vaccine

Sudipta Bhowmick1, Rajesh Ravindran2 and Nahid Ali3*

Author Affiliations

1 Current Address: Department of Zoology, Dr. Kanailal Bhattacharyya College, Dharmatala, Ramrajatala, Santragachi, Howrah 711104, India

2 Current Address: Department of Pathology, Emory Vaccine Center, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta, GA 30329, USA

3 Infectious Diseases and Immunology Division, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:8  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-8

Published: 15 January 2014



Visceral leishmaniasis caused by the protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani complex is a potentially fatal disease if left untreated. Few treatment options exist and are toxic, costly and ineffective against resistant strains. Thus a safe and efficacious vaccine to combat this disease is needed. Previously, we reported that intraperitoneal administration of leishmanial antigens (LAg) entrapped in liposomes conferred protection to BALB/c mice against L. donovani challenge infection. However, this vaccine failed to protect mice when administered subcutaneously. We therefore evaluated whether formulation of LAg in combination with two commonly used human-compatible adjuvants, alum and saponin, could improve the protective efficacy of subcutaneously administered LAg, to a level comparable to that of the intraperitoneal liposomal vaccination.


Vaccine formulations of LAg with alum or saponin failed to reduce parasite burden in the liver, and alum + LAg immunized mice also failed to reduce parasite burden in the spleen. Interestingly, saponin + LAg vaccination actually resulted in an increased L. donovani parasitic load in the spleen following L. donovani challenge, suggesting this regimen exacerbates the infection. In contrast, mice immunized intraperitoneally with Lip + LAg demonstrated significant protection in both liver and spleen, as expected. Mechanistically, we found that failure of alum + LAg to protect mice was associated with elevated levels of IL-4, whereas both IL-4 and IL-10 levels were increased in saponin + LAg immunized mice. This outcome served to exacerbate L. donovani infection in the saponin + LAg group, despite a concurrent increase in proinflammatory IFN-γ production. On the contrary, protection against L. donovani challenge in Lip + LAg immunized mice was associated with elevated levels of IFN-γ in conjunction with low levels of IL-4 and IL-10 production.


These findings indicate that elevated levels of IL-4 may contribute to LAg vaccine failure, whereas combined elevation of IL-4 together with IL-10 exacerbated the disease as observed in saponin + LAg immunized mice. In contrast, a robust IFN-γ response, in the absence of IL-4 and IL-10 production, was associated with protective immunity following administration of the Lip + LAg vaccine. Together these findings suggest that optimization of antigen/adjuvant formulations to minimize IL-4 and IL-10 induction may be helpful in the development of high efficacy vaccines targeting Leishmania.

Leishmania donovani; Alum; Saponin; IL-4; IL-10