Spiroplasma and host immunity: activation of humoral immune responses increases endosymbiont load and susceptibility to certain Gram-negative bacterial pathogens in Drosophila melanogaster

Cell Microbiol. 2011 Sep;13(9):1385-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2011.01627.x. Epub 2011 Jul 11.


Spiroplasma poulsonii and its relatives are facultative, vertically transmitted endosymbionts harboured by several Drosophila species. Their long-term survival requires not only evasion of host immunity, but also that Spiroplasma does not have a net detrimental effect on host fitness. These requirements provide the central framework for interactions between host and endosymbiont. We use Drosophila melaogaster as a model to unravel aspects of the mechanistic basis of endosymbiont-host immune interactions. Here we show that Spiroplasma does not activate an immune response in Drosophila and is not susceptible to either the cellular or humoral arms of the Drosophila immune system. We gain unexpected insight into host factors that can promote Spiroplasma growth by showing that activation of Toll and Imd immune pathways actually increases Sprioplasma titre. Spiroplasma-mediated protection is not observed for variety of fungal and bacterial pathogens and Spiroplasma actually increases susceptibility of Drosophila to certain Gram-negative pathogens. Finally, we show that the growth of endosymbiotic Spiroplasma is apparently self-regulated, as suggested by the unhindered proliferation of non-endosymbiotic Spiroplasma citri in fly haemolymph.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Immunity, Humoral / immunology*
  • Immunity, Humoral / physiology
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • Spiroplasma / immunology*
  • Spiroplasma / physiology*
  • Symbiosis / immunology