Protozoan parasites of Leishmania spp. invade macrophages as promastigotes and differentiate into replicative amastigotes within parasitophorous vacuoles. Infection of inbred strains of mice with Leishmania major is a well-studied model of the mammalian immune response to Leishmania species, but the ultrastructure and biochemical properties of the parasitophorous vacuole occupied by this parasite have been best characterized for other species of Leishmania. We examined the parasitophorous vacuole occupied by L. major in lymph nodes of infected mice and in bone marrow–derived macrophages infected in vitro. At all time points after infection, single L. major amastigotes were wrapped tightly by host membrane, suggesting that amastigotes segregate into separate vacuoles during replication. This small, individual vacuole contrasts sharply with the large, communal vacuoles occupied by Leishmania amazonensis. An extensive survey of the literature revealed that the single vacuoles occupied by L. major are characteristic of those formed by Old World species of Leishmania, while New World species of Leishmania form large vacuoles occupied by many amastigotes.

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