Leishmania chagasi, a causal agent of visceral leishmaniasis, requires passage through lab animals such as hamsters to maintain its virulence. Hamster infection is typically accomplished via cardiac puncture or intraperitoneal injection, procedures accompanied by risks of increased animal stress and death. The use of the hamster model also necessitates a regular supply of infected animals, because L. chagasi parasites newly isolated from an infected hamster can be grown in culture for only several weeks before loss of function/phenotype occurs. In an effort to decrease animal usage and animal stress, experiments were performed to assess a more gentle inoculation procedure (saphenous vein inoculation) and the use of cryopreserved parasite cells for research experiments. Of 81 hamsters inoculated by the saphenous vein, 80 became infected as determined ante mortem, by display of clinical symptoms of leishmaniasis (onset of symptoms at 105 ± 22 days post-inoculation), and postmortem by the presence of parasites within the spleen. Splenic parasite load calculated for a subset (n = 34) of infected hamsters was 124 to 26,177 Leishmania donovani infection units. Cryopreserved, and never-stored, cells were equivalent in all properties evaluated, including developmental changes in morphology during culture, culture growth rates, parasite resistance to serum-mediated lysis, and expression of developmentally regulated surface proteins major surface protease and promastigote surface antigen.
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