Most of the experimental studies of Leishmania spp. infection require the determination of the parasite load in different tissues. Quantification of parasites by microscopy is not very sensitive and is time consuming, whereas culture microtitrations remain laborious and can be jeopardized by microbial contamination. The aim of this study was to quantify Leishmania infantum parasites by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using specific DNA TaqMan® probes and to compare the efficacy of detection of this technique with a PCR–enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). For this purpose, spleen and liver samples from L. infantum–infected mice were collected during a 3-mo longitudinal study and analyzed by both methods. PCR– ELISA failed to quantify Leishmania spp. DNA in samples with very low or very high numbers of parasites. Real-time PCR was more sensitive than PCR–ELISA, detecting down to a single parasite, and enabled the parasite quantification over a wide, 5-log range. In summary, this study developed a method for absolute quantification of L. infantum parasites in infected organs using real-time TaqMan® PCR.

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