Hidden from the host: Spiroplasma bacteria infecting Drosophila do not cause an immune response, but are suppressed by ectopic immune activation

Insect Mol Biol. 2003 Feb;12(1):93-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2583.2003.00380.x.


Insects and other arthropods have an effective innate immune system that can clear infections with bacteria and other microorganisms. Despite this ability, one group of bacteria, the spiroplasmas, survive unharmed within the haemolymph of a wide range of arthropod hosts. We investigated the interaction between one member of this clade, a relative of Spiroplasma poulsonii, and the immune system of its Drosophila host. Expression of antimicrobial genes in spiroplasma-infected flies did not differ from wild-type controls either in the naturally infected state, nor after septic shock. We therefore concluded that spiroplasma infection did not induce an immune response in its host, but that this absence of response was unlikely to be because the bacterium inhibited response. Further experiments revealed immune reactions induced ectopically did reduce parasite titre. We therefore conclude that this bacterium has a novel form of interaction with its host, being hidden from the host immune system, but potentially suppressible by it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Spiroplasma / growth & development*
  • Spiroplasma / immunology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Insect Proteins