Cellular and molecular remodelling of a host cell for vertical transmission of bacterial symbionts

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Jun 29;283(1833):20160580. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0580.


Various insects require intracellular bacteria that are restricted to specialized cells (bacteriocytes) and are transmitted vertically via the female ovary, but the transmission mechanisms are obscure. We hypothesized that, in the whitefly Bemisia tabaci, where intact bacteriocytes (and not isolated bacteria) are transferred to oocytes, the transmission mechanism would be evident as cellular and molecular differences between the nymph (pre-adult) and adult bacteriocytes. We demonstrate dramatic remodelling of bacteriocytes at the developmental transition from nymph to adulthood. This transition involves the loss of cell-cell adhesion, high division rates to constant cell size and onset of cell mobility, enabling the bacteriocytes to crawl to the ovaries. These changes are accompanied by cytoskeleton reorganization and changes in gene expression: genes functioning in cell-cell adhesion display reduced expression and genes involved in cell division, cell motility and endocytosis/exocytosis have elevated expression in adult bacteriocytes, relative to nymph bacteriocytes. This study demonstrates, for the first time, how developmentally orchestrated remodelling of gene expression and correlated changes in cell behaviour underpin the capacity of bacteriocytes to mediate the vertical transmission and persistence of the symbiotic bacteria on which the insect host depends.

Keywords: Bemisia tabaci; Portiera; bacteriocyte; cell mobility; vertical transmission.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria*
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Female
  • Hemiptera / microbiology*
  • Oocytes / microbiology*
  • Ovary / cytology*
  • Ovary / microbiology
  • Symbiosis*