Liposomes consisting of stearylamine (SA) and egg yolk phosphatidylcholine (PC) were studied for their cytotoxic activity against freshly transformed promastigotes and intracellular amastigotes of Leishmania donovani, the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis. More than 99% of the parasites of strain AG83 were killed within 60 min by treatment with 22 mol% SA-PC liposomes (132 µg/ml total lipids). This was further confirmed by incubating the liposome-treated promastigotes at 22 C for 96 hr. The killing activity of the liposomes progressively decreased with lowering lipid concentration. However, weak cytotoxic activity was still detected at 6.6 µg/ml lipids. Leishmanicidal activity of the liposomes became stronger with increasing SA content but was reduced with the incorporation of cholesterol in the liposomes. A similar cytotoxic effect was observed on other Indian strains of L. donovani, for example PKDL and DD8, as well as on species such as Leishmania donovani S1, Leishmania donovani infantum, Leishmania tropica, Leishmania amazonensis, and Leishmania mexicana. However, freshly transformed promastigotes appeared to be more susceptible than the ones subcultured. The strong leishmanicidal activity of SA-PC liposomes was also demonstrated toward intracellular L. donovani amastigotes. The SA-bearing vesicles could effectively inhibit the growth and multiplication of the parasites within the macrophages. The cytolytic activity of these liposomes on leishmanial parasites and low toxicity on host macrophages may, thus, find application in the therapy of leishmaniasis.
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