Although miltefosine and paromomycin were only recently introduced to treat visceral leishmaniasis, increasing numbers of miltefosine treatment failures and occasional primary resistance to both drugs have been reported. Understanding alterations in parasite behaviour linked to drug resistance is essential to assess the propensity for emergence and spread of resistant strains, particularly since a positive effect on fitness has been reported for antimony-resistant parasites. This laboratory study compared the fitness of a drug-susceptible parent WT clinical Leishmania infantum isolate (MHOM/FR/96/LEM3323) and derived miltefosine and paromomycin drug-resistant lines that were experimentally selected at the intracellular amastigote level.Methods
Parasite fitness of WT, paromomycin-resistant and miltefosine-resistant strains, in vitro and in vivo parasite growth, metacyclogenesis, infectivity and macrophage stress responses were comparatively evaluated.Results
No significant differences in promastigote fitness were noted between the WT and paromomycin-resistant strain, while clear benefits could be demonstrated for paromomycin-resistant amastigotes in terms of enhanced in vitro and in vivo growth potential and intracellular stress response. The miltefosine-resistant phenotype showed incomplete promastigote metacyclogenesis, decreased intracellular growth and weakened stress response, revealing a reduced fitness compared with WT parent parasites.Conclusions
The rapid selection and fitness advantages of paromomycin-resistant amastigotes endorse the current use of paromomycin in combination therapy. Although a reduced fitness of miltefosine-resistant strains may explain the difficulty of miltefosine resistance selection in vitro, the growing number of miltefosine treatment failures in the field still requires further exploratory research.