How the insect immune system interacts with an obligate symbiotic bacterium

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Feb 7;278(1704):333-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1563. Epub 2010 Aug 18.


The animal immune system provides defence against microbial infection, and the evolution of certain animal-microbial symbioses is predicted to involve adaptive changes in the host immune system to accommodate the microbial partner. For example, the reduced humoral immune system in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum, including an apparently non-functional immune deficiency (IMD) signalling pathway and absence of peptidoglycan recognition proteins (PGRPs), has been suggested to be an adaptation for the symbiosis with the bacterium Buchnera aphidicola. To investigate this hypothesis, the interaction between Buchnera and non-host cells, specifically cultured Drosophila S2 cells, was investigated. Microarray analysis of the gene expression pattern in S2 cells indicated that Buchnera triggered an immune response, including upregulated expression of genes for antimicrobial peptides via the IMD pathway with the PGRP-LC as receptor. Buchnera cells were readily taken up by S2 cells, but were subsequently eliminated over 1-2 days. These data suggest that Buchnera induces in non-host cells a defensive immune response that is deficient in its host. They support the proposed contribution of the Buchnera symbiosis to the evolution of the apparently reduced immune function in the aphid host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / genetics
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / immunology
  • Aphids / genetics
  • Aphids / immunology*
  • Aphids / microbiology*
  • Buchnera / immunology*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / immunology
  • Immunity, Humoral / immunology*
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis / methods
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Symbiosis / genetics
  • Symbiosis / immunology


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Carrier Proteins
  • peptidoglycan recognition protein
  • RNA