When cultures of normal mouse peritoneal macrophages were infected with the intracellular protozoan parasite Leishmania enrietti, the micro-organism was found to survive intracellularly for several days, apparently without multiplication. However, exposure of infected macrophages to certain stimuli led to rapid parasite killing and digestion, providing a sensitive assay with which the mechanisms of macrophage activation can be studied. Microbicidal activity was induced by incubation of macrophages with syngeneic spleen lymphocytes, which were stimulated either by allogeneic cells in mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) or by the plant lectin concanavalin A (Con A). Cocultivation with MLCs led to parasite killing within 48-72 h, whereas exposure of infected cells to Con A-stimulated lymphocytes resulted in substantial destruction of the micro-organism within less than 24 h, an effect which was dependent on the presence of thymus-derived lymphocytes and was inhibited by alpha methyl-mannoside. Incubation with Con A-stimulated lymphocytes also led to lysis of part of the macrophage monolayer. However, parasite killing did not result from decreased macrophage survival, as destruction of the micro-organism was highest under culture conditions which were the least detrimental to the phagocytes. Conversely, excess numbers of Con A-stimulated lymphocytes were less efficient at inducing macrophage activation and displayed marked toxicity to the macrophage monolayer. When spleen cells were stimulated by Con A at concentrations above 10 mug/ml, a decrease was noted in the capacity of macrophages to destroy the parasite, probably reflecting a toxicity of the lectin for lymphocytes resulting in impaired activating capacity.

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