In the present study, we compared the effect of 5% oxygen tension (hypoxia) with a normal tension of 21% oxygen (normoxia) on macrophage infection by the protozoan parasite Leishmania amazonensis. Macrophages from different sources (human cell line U937, murine cell line J774, and murine peritoneal macrophages) exposed to hypoxia showed a reduction of the percentage of infected cells and the number of intracellular parasites per cell. Observations on the kinetics of infection indicated that hypoxia did not depress L. amazonensis phagocytosis but induced macrophages to reduce intracellular parasitism. Furthermore, hypoxia did not act synergistically with γ-interferon and bacterial lipopolysaccharides in macrophages to induce killing of parasites. Experiments also indicated no correlation between nitric oxide production and control of infection in macrophages under hypoxic condition. Thus, we have provided the first evidence that hypoxia, which occurs in various pathological conditions, can alter macrophage susceptibility to a parasitic infection.
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