Mass spectrometry imaging identifies altered hepatic lipid signatures during experimental Leishmania donovani infection

Roel Tans, Shoumit Dey, Nidhi Sharma Dey, Jian-Hua Cao, Prasanjit S Paul, Grant Calder, Peter O'Toole, Paul M Kaye, Ron M A Heeren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Spatial analysis of lipids in inflammatory microenvironments is key to understand the pathogenesis of infectious disease. Granulomatous inflammation is a hallmark of leishmaniasis and changes in host and parasite lipid metabolism have been observed at the bulk tissue level in various infection models. Here, mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) is applied to spatially map hepatic lipid composition following infection with Leishmania donovani, an experimental mouse model of visceral leishmaniasis.

Methods: Livers from naïve and L. donovani-infected C57BL/6 mice were harvested at 14- and 20-days post-infection (n=5 per time point). 12 µm transverse sections were cut and covered with norhamane, prior to lipid analysis using MALDI-MSI. MALDI-MSI was performed in negative mode on a Rapiflex (Bruker Daltonics) at 5 and 50 µm spatial resolution and data-dependent analysis (DDA) on an Orbitrap-Elite (Thermo-Scientific) at 50 µm spatial resolution for structural identification analysis of lipids.

Results: Aberrant lipid abundances were observed in a heterogeneous distribution across infected mouse livers compared to naïve mouse liver. Distinctive localized correlated lipid masses were found in granulomas and surrounding parenchymal tissue. Structural identification revealed 40 different lipids common to naïve and d14/d20 infected mouse livers, whereas 15 identified lipids were only detected in infected mouse livers. For pathology-guided MSI imaging, we deduced lipids from manually annotated granulomatous and parenchyma regions of interests (ROIs), identifying 34 lipids that showed significantly different intensities between parenchyma and granulomas across all infected livers.

Discussion: Our results identify specific lipids that spatially correlate to the major histopathological feature of Leishmania donovani infection in the liver, viz. hepatic granulomas. In addition, we identified a three-fold increase in the number of unique phosphatidylglycerols (PGs) in infected liver tissue and provide direct evidence that arachidonic acid-containing phospholipids are localized with hepatic granulomas. These phospholipids may serve as important precursors for downstream oxylipin generation with consequences for the regulation of the inflammatory cascade. This study provides the first description of the use of MSI to define spatial-temporal lipid changes at local sites of infection induced by Leishmania donovani in mice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number862104
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in immunology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 Tans, Dey, Dey, Cao, Paul, Calder, O’Toole, Kaye and Heeren.


  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid/metabolism
  • Granuloma/pathology
  • Leishmania donovani/physiology
  • Liver/pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phospholipids/metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization

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