Leishmania parasites invade host macrophages, causing infections that are either limited to skin or spread to internal organs. In this study, 3 species causing cutaneous leishmaniasis, L. major, L. aethiopica and L. tropica, were tested for their ability to interfere with apoptosis in host macrophages in 2 different lines of human monocyte-derived macrophages (cell lines THP-1 and U937) and the results confirmed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). All 3 species induced early apoptosis 48 h after infection (expression of phosphatidyl serine on the outer membrane). There were significant increases in the percentage of apoptotic cells both for U937 and PBMC following infection with each of the 3 species. Early apoptotic events were confirmed by mitochondrial membrane permeabilization detection and caspase activation 48 and 72 h after infection. Moreover, the percentage of infected THP-1 and U937 macrophages increased significantly (up to 100%) following treatment with an apoptosis inducer. Since phosphatidyl serine externalization on apoptosing cells acts as a signal for engulfment by macrophages, induction of apoptosis in the parasitized cells could actively participate in spreading the infection. In summary, parasite-containing apoptotic bodies with intact membranes could be released and phagocytosed by uninfected macrophages.