Wolbachia-mediated antibacterial protection and immune gene regulation in Drosophila

PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e25430. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025430. Epub 2011 Sep 29.


The outcome of microbial infection of insects is dependent not only on interactions between the host and pathogen, but also on the interactions between microbes that co-infect the host. Recently the maternally inherited endosymbiotic bacteria Wolbachia has been shown to protect insects from a range of microbial and eukaryotic pathogens. Mosquitoes experimentally infected with Wolbachia have upregulated immune responses and are protected from a number of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, Plasmodium and filarial nematodes. It has been hypothesised that immune upregulation underpins Wolbachia-mediated protection. Drosophila is a strong model for understanding host-Wolbachia-pathogen interactions. Wolbachia-mediated antiviral protection in Drosophila has been demonstrated for a number of different Wolbachia strains. In this study we investigate whether Wolbachia-infected flies are also protected against pathogenic bacteria. Drosophila simulans lines infected with five different Wolbachia strains were challenged with the pathogenic bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01, Serratia marcescens and Erwinia carotovora and mortality compared to paired lines without Wolbachia. No difference in mortality was observed in the flies with or without Wolbachia. Similarly no antibacterial protection was observed for D. melanogaster infected with Wolbachia. Interestingly, D. melanogaster Oregon RC flies which are naturally infected with Wolbachia showed no upregulation of the antibacterial immune genes TepIV, Defensin, Diptericin B, PGRP-SD, Cecropin A1 and Attacin D compared to paired flies without Wolbachia. Taken together these results indicate that Wolbachia-mediated antibacterial protection is not ubiquitous in insects and furthermore that the mechanisms of antibacterial and antiviral protection are independent. We suggest that the immune priming and antibacterial protection observed in Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes may be a consequence of the recent artificial introduction of the symbiont into insects that normally do not carry Wolbachia and that antibacterial protection is unlikely to be found in insects carrying long-term Wolbachia infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology*
  • Male
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Species Specificity
  • Wolbachia / drug effects
  • Wolbachia / growth & development
  • Wolbachia / immunology*
  • Wolbachia / pathogenicity