Protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies may down-regulate immune response and increase morbidity and mortality due to infection. In this study, a murine model was used to study the effects of protein, iron and zinc deficiencies on the immune response to Leishmania
infection. Mice were initially fed a standard diet or with a diet containing 3% casein but deficient in zinc and iron. After malnutrition was established, mice were inoculated with L. chagasi
and sacrificed four weeks later in order to evaluate liver and spleen parasite loads and serum biochemical parameters. Significant decreases in liver and spleen weight, an increase in the parasite loads in these organs and decreases in serum protein and glucose concentrations in malnourished animals were observed. Furthermore, the production of interferon-gamma by spleen cells from infected malnourished mice stimulated by Leishmania
antigen was significantly lower compared with that in control diet mice. These data suggest that malnutrition alters the immune response to L. chagasi
infection in the BALB/c model and, in association with the effects on biochemical and anatomical parameters of the host, favored increases in the parasite loads in the spleens and livers of these animals.