Parasites of the subgenus Leishmania (Viannia) cause varying clinical symptoms ranging from cutaneous leishmaniases (CL) with single or few lesions, disseminated CL (DL) with multiple lesions to disfiguring forms of mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (MCL). In this population genetics study, 37 strains of L. (V.) guyanensis, 63 of L. (V.) braziliensis, four of L. (V.) shawi, six of L. (V.) lainsoni, seven of L. (V.) naiffi, one each of L. (V.) utingensis and L. (V.) lindenbergi, and one L. (V.) lainsoni/L. naiffi hybrid from different endemic foci in Brazil were examined for variation at 15 hyper-variable microsatellite markers.
The multilocus microsatellite profiles obtained for the 120 strains were analysed using both model- and distance-based methods. Significant genetic diversity was observed for all L. (Viannia) strains studied. The two cluster analysis approaches identified two principal genetic groups or populations, one consisting of strains of L. (V.) guyanensis from the Amazon region and the other of strains of L. (V.) braziliensis isolated along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. A third group comprised a heterogeneous assembly of species, including other strains of L. braziliensis isolated from the north of Brazil, which were extremely polymorphic. The latter strains seemed to be more closely related to those of L. (V.) shawi, L. (V.) naiffi, and L. (V.) lainsoni, also isolated in northern Brazilian foci. The MLMT approach identified an epidemic clone consisting of 13 strains of L. braziliensis from Minas Gerais, but evidence for recombination was obtained for the populations of L. (V.) braziliensis from the Atlantic coast and for L. (V.) guyanensis.
Different levels of recombination versus clonality seem to occur within the subgenus L. (Viannia). Though clearly departing from panmixia, sporadic, but long-term sustained recombination might explain the tremendous genetic diversity and limited population structure found for such L. (Viannia) strains.