Zoonotic visceral leishmaniosis is a worldwide severe disease caused by Leishmania infantum, a protozoan that has phlebotomine sand flies as vectors and dogs as primary reservoir hosts. Over the last few decades, cats have been regarded as an indisputable piece within the ecological system in which L. infantum is maintained indefinitely. However, little is known about feline strains, including their phenotypic plasticity and infectivity. In this study, the phenotypic behaviour of seven L. infantum feline strains was compared to those of well-characterised counterparts isolated from two dogs and two humans in terms of growth profile, adaptive capacity under several stress conditions, susceptibility to antileishmanial drugs, and infectivity to host cells. Feline strains displayed a similar growth profile, survival capacity, and ability to infect feline, canine, and human monocyte-derived primary macrophages. Furthermore, multivariate cluster analysis suggested that most strains studied did not display distinctive phenotypic features. To our knowledge, this is the first study to analyse the phenotypic behaviour of feline L. infantum strains. This study brings new insights into the hypothetical role of cats as reservoir hosts of L. infantum since the parasites found in them are phenotypically identical to those of dogs and humans. However, further studies on the transmission dynamics should be encouraged to fully establish the status of cats in the maintenance of L. infantum foci.
- Disease reservoirs
- Parasitic sensitivity tests