Structural and mechanistic insights into the complexes formed by Wolbachia cytoplasmic incompatibility factors

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Oct 12;118(41):e2107699118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2107699118.


Wolbachia bacteria, inherited through the female germ line, infect a large fraction of arthropod species. Many Wolbachia strains manipulate host reproduction, most commonly through cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). CI, a conditional male sterility, results when Wolbachia-infected male insects mate with uninfected females; viability is restored if the female is similarly infected (called "rescue"). CI is used to help control mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and Zika, but its mechanisms remain unknown. The coexpressed CI factors CifA and CifB form stable complexes in vitro, but the timing and function of this interaction in the insect are unresolved. CifA expression in the female germ line is sufficient for rescue. We report high-resolution structures of a CI-factor complex, CinA-CinB, which utilizes a unique binding mode between the CinA rescue factor and the CinB nuclease; the structures were validated by biochemical and yeast growth analyses. Importantly, transgenic expression in Drosophila of a nonbinding CinA mutant, designed based on the CinA-CinB structure, suggests CinA expressed in females must bind CinB imported by sperm in order to rescue embryonic viability. Binding between cognate factors is conserved in an enzymatically distinct CI system, CidA-CidB, suggesting universal features in Wolbachia CI induction and rescue.

Keywords: Wolbachia; cytoplasmic incompatibility; mosquito-borne viruses; nuclease; protein crystal structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / embryology*
  • Embryonic Development
  • Female
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mosquito Control / methods
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Symbiosis
  • Vector Borne Diseases / prevention & control
  • Vector Borne Diseases / transmission
  • Vector Borne Diseases / virology
  • Wolbachia / metabolism*


  • Multiprotein Complexes