Biology and genetics of human head and body lice

Trends Parasitol. 2012 Dec;28(12):563-71. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Head lice and body lice have distinct ecologies and differ slightly in morphology and biology, questioning their taxonomic status. Over the past 10 years many genetic studies have been undertaken. Controversial data suggest that not only body lice but also head lice can serve as vectors of Bartonella quintana, and a better understanding of louse epidemiology is crucial. Here, we review taxonomic studies based on biology and genetics, including genomic data on lice, lice endosymbionts, and louse-transmitted bacteria. We recommend that studies of human lice employ morphological and biological characteristics in conjunction with transcriptomic date because lice seem to differ mainly in gene expression (and not in gene content), leading to different phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Vectors / anatomy & histology
  • Arthropod Vectors / classification
  • Arthropod Vectors / genetics*
  • Arthropod Vectors / microbiology*
  • Bartonella quintana / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Humans
  • Lice Infestations / microbiology
  • Pediculus / anatomy & histology
  • Pediculus / classification
  • Pediculus / genetics*
  • Pediculus / microbiology
  • Species Specificity