Background: The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is an obligatory blood-feeding ectoparasite that requires a blood meal to molt and produce eggs. Their frequent biting to obtain blood meals and intimate association with humans increase the potential for disease transmission. However, despite more than 100 years of inquiry into bed bugs as potential disease vectors, they still have not been conclusively linked to any pathogen or disease. This ecological niche is extraordinarily rare, given that nearly every other blood-feeding arthropod is associated with some type of human or zoonotic disease. Bed bugs rely on the bacteria Wolbachia as an obligate endosymbiont to biosynthesize B vitamins, since they acquire a nutritionally deficient diet, but it is unknown if Wolbachia confers additional benefits to its bed bug host. In some insects, Wolbachia induces resistance to viruses such as Dengue, Chikungunya, West Nile, Drosophila C and Zika, and primes the insect immune system in other blood-feeding insects. Wolbachia might have evolved a similar role in its mutualistic association with the bed bug. In this study, we evaluated the influence of Wolbachia on virus replication within C. lectularius.
Methods: We used feline calicivirus as a model pathogen. We fed 40 bed bugs from an established line of Wolbachia-cured and a line of Wolbachia-positive C. lectularius a virus-laden blood meal, and quantified the amount of virus over five time intervals post-feeding. The antibiotic rifampicin was used to cure bed bugs of Wolbachia.
Results: There was a significant effect of time post-feeding, as the amount of virus declined by ~90% over 10 days in both groups, but no significant difference in virus titer was observed between the Wolbachia-positive and Wolbachia-cured groups.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that other mechanisms are involved in virus suppression within bed bugs, independent of the influence of Wolbachia, and our conclusions underscore the need for future research.
Keywords: Cimex lectularius; Cimicidae; Endosymbiont; Virus suppression; Wolbachia; ssRNA.