Wolbachia utilize host actin for efficient maternal transmission in Drosophila melanogaster

PLoS Pathog. 2015 Apr 23;11(4):e1004798. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004798. eCollection 2015 Apr.


Wolbachia pipientis is a ubiquitous, maternally transmitted bacterium that infects the germline of insect hosts. Estimates are that Wolbachia infect nearly 40% of insect species on the planet, making it the most prevalent infection on Earth. The bacterium, infamous for the reproductive phenotypes it induces in arthropod hosts, has risen to recent prominence due to its use in vector control. Wolbachia infection prevents the colonization of vectors by RNA viruses, including Drosophila C virus and important human pathogens such as Dengue and Chikungunya. Here we present data indicating that Wolbachia utilize the host actin cytoskeleton during oogenesis for persistence within and transmission between Drosophila melanogaster generations. We show that phenotypically wild type flies heterozygous for cytoskeletal mutations in Drosophila profilin (chic(221/+) and chic(1320/+)) or villin (qua(6-396/+)) either clear a Wolbachia infection, or result in significantly reduced infection levels. This reduction of Wolbachia is supported by PCR evidence, Western blot results and cytological examination. This phenotype is unlikely to be the result of maternal loading defects, defects in oocyte polarization, or germline stem cell proliferation, as the flies are phenotypically wild type in egg size, shape, and number. Importantly, however, heterozygous mutant flies exhibit decreased total G-actin in the ovary, compared to control flies and chic(221) heterozygous mutants exhibit decreased expression of profilin. Additionally, RNAi knockdown of profilin during development decreases Wolbachia titers. We analyze evidence in support of alternative theories to explain this Wolbachia phenotype and conclude that our results support the hypothesis that Wolbachia utilize the actin skeleton for efficient transmission and maintenance within Drosophila.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Drosophila melanogaster / parasitology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Phenotype
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Wolbachia / pathogenicity*


  • Actins