BackgroundSince the introduction of miltefosine (MIL) as first-line therapy in the kala-azar elimination programme in the Indian subcontinent, treatment failure rates have been increasing. Since parasite infectivity and virulence may become altered upon treatment relapse, this laboratory study assessed the phenotypic effects of repeated in vitro and in vivo MIL exposure.MethodsSyngeneic Leishmania donovani lines either or not exposed to MIL were compared for drug susceptibility, rate of promastigote multiplication and metacyclogenesis, macrophage infectivity and behaviour in the sand fly vector, Lutzomyia longipalpis.ResultsPromastigotes of both in vitro and in vivo MIL-selected strains displayed a slightly reduced drug susceptibility that was associated with a reduced MIL-accumulation linked to a lower copy number (disomic state) of chromosome 13 harboring the miltefosine transporter (LdMT) gene. In vitro selected promastigotes showed a lower rate of metacyclogenesis whereas the in vivo derived promastigotes displayed a moderately increased growth rate. Repeated MIL exposure did neither influence the parasite load nor metacyclogenesis in the sand fly vector.ConclusionsRecurrent in vitro and in vivo MIL exposure evokes a number of very subtle phenotypic and genotypic changes which could make promastigotes less susceptible to MIL without attaining full resistance. These changes did not significantly impact on infection in the sand fly vector.