Leishmania major: the suitability of East African nonhuman primates as animal models for cutaneous leishmaniasis.
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The susceptibility of four species of East African nonhuman primates to experimental infection with Leishmania major was investigated. Four Syke's monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), two vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops), two baboons (Papio cynocephalus), and two brown bushbabies (Galago garnettii) were each inoculated intradermally on the left eyelid, left ear, and nose with 0.1 ml of medium containing 1 x 10(7) promastigotes of a characterized L. major strain. All the nonhuman primates except the bushbabies developed erythema and conspicuous nodules on the eyelids and ears by 3 weeks PI. The nodules increased rapidly in size and ulceration was evident on the eyelids and ears by 49 days PI in the vervets, Syke's, and baboons. The aspirates were positive in culture or smears at 35, 49, 63, and 77 days PI. No parasites were observed in cultures or smears at 92, 105, 128, 147, and 161 days PI. The lesions in these animals began resolving by 84 days PI and were completely healed by 112 days PI. The exception was one baboon in which lesion healing did not start until around 147 days and was completely healed by 182 days PI. Cultures from the liver failed to demonstrate visceralization of the parasite in any of the animals throughout the 68 weeks of the experiment. Challenge with the same strain of L. major 6 months PI, corresponding to about 3 months after self cure, failed to produce infection in any of these experimental hosts. All the nonhuman primates except the bushbaby when challenged with the same strain of L. major at 12 months PI developed lesions and were positive for parasites at 14 and 28 days PI. Positive cultures were obtained from the eyelid and ear of one vervet up to 42 days PI. However, the lesion sizes in all these animals were smaller than in the initial infection and did not ulcerate. The nodules disappeared within 6 to 8 weeks as compared to 16 weeks in the initial infection. The histopathological appearance of the lesions varied from diffuse infiltration of plasma cells and lymphocytes which increased progressively to granulomata with epitheloid cells. This study shows that the vervets, Syke's, and the baboons are equally susceptible to L. major infection, while bushbabies are refractory. The vervets, Syke's, and baboons demonstrate a self-healing phenomenon within about 3 months which is comparable to that observed in humans infected with L. major. These three species of nonhuman primates are therefore considered as suitable models for drug or vaccine trials against human zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis.