Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Wilson, Mary E.

First Committee Member

Varga, Steven

Second Committee Member

Petersen, Christine

Third Committee Member

Messingham, Kelly

Fourth Committee Member

Sutterwala, Fayyaz

Fifth Committee Member

Klingelhutz, Aloysius


Leishmaniasis refers to the group of diseases caused by pathogenic protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania. Nearly all human Leishmania spp. infections are initiated in mammalian skin through the bite of the phlebotomine sand fly vector. However, clinical manifestations vary greatly with infecting species. Leishmania major establish infection locally within the skin and cause chronic ulcerating skin lesions at the local cutaneous site of inoculation, in a syndrome known as Cutaneous Leishmaniasis (CL) Leishmania infantum parasites metastasize from the site of skin infection via unknown mechanisms, and establish infection within visceral organs usually without inducing skin pathology, resulting in the potentially fatal disseminated disease, Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL). Mouse studies suggest early responses at the skin infection site are critical determinants of subsequent adaptive immune responses in leishmaniasis, yet few studies address the role of keratinocytes, the most abundant immunoactive cell in the epidermis. We hypothesize that Leishmania infection causes keratinocytes to produce immunomodulatory factors that influence the outcome of infection.

Incubation of primary or immortalized human keratinocytes with L. infantum or L. major elicited dramatically different responses. Keratinocytes incubated with L. infantum significantly increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes IL6, IL8, TNF, and IL1B by RT-qPCR; whereas keratinocytes exposed to L. major did not. Similar to live parasites, L. infantum-derived exosomes induced more IL8 mRNA compared to control or L. major-derived exosomes. Western blotting confirmed NFkBp65 phosphorylation in keratinocytes exposed to L. infantum but not L. major. However, no evidence of L. major inhibition of TNF-induced NFkBp65 phosphorylation was observed in simultaneously treated keratinocytes. To examine whether keratinocytes influence proximal host cells, L. infantum-infected human monocytes were co-cultured with keratinocytes across a transwell membrane. These studies suggested L. infantum-exposed keratinocytes release soluble factors that enhance monocyte control of intracellular L. infantum replication. L. major-exposed keratinocytes had no comparable effect. These data suggest L. infantum and L. major differentially activate keratinocytes to release factors that limit infection in monocytes.

Microarray analyses performed on human keratinocytes exposed to either L. infantum or L. major promastigotes identified a limited number of transcripts increased by parasite exposure. Consistent with RT-qPCR observations, several inflammatory cytokine and chemokine genes were more strongly induced in L. infantum-exposed keratinocytes compared to L. major-exposed keratinocytes. Pathway analyses of genes induced by L. infantum-treated keratinocytes suggested that this interaction may induce neutrophil recruitment. Notably, AP1 transcription factor subunit genes were significantly down regulated in L. major-treated compared with L. infantum-treated or control keratinocytes. This suggests L. major may actively inhibits this keratinocyte activation, which might affect its ability to establish infection within host skin. In addition, ex vivo intradermal infection of human skin explants was explored as a method to compare keratinocyte responses to L. infantum or L. major in the context of whole skin tissue and the effects of vector salivary gland components are considered.

The response of keratinocytes found in these studies using L. infantum and L. major may give insight into the local host pathologic responses to different Leishmania species leading to visceralizing versus cutaneous manifestations to infection. We propose that Leishmania spp. elicit or evade a pro-inflammatory response by keratinocytes at the site of infection, generating a microenvironment uniquely tailored to each Leishmania species.


xiv, 145 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 125-145).


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Copyright © 2017 Breanna M. Scorza