The bacterium Wolbachia (order Rickettsiales) is probably the world's most successful vertically-transmitted symbiont, distributed among a staggering 40% of terrestrial arthropod species. Wolbachia has great potential in vector control due to its ability to manipulate its hosts' reproduction and to impede the replication and dissemination of arboviruses and other pathogens within haematophagous arthropods. In addition, the unexpected presence of Wolbachia in filarial nematodes of medical and veterinary importance has provided an opportunity to target the adult worms of Wuchereria bancrofti, Onchocerca volvulus, and Dirofilaria immitis with safe drugs such as doxycycline. A striking feature of Wolbachia is its phenotypic plasticity between (and sometimes within) hosts, which may be underpinned by its ability to integrate itself into several key processes within eukaryotic cells: oxidative stress, autophagy, and apoptosis. Importantly, despite significant differences in the genomes of arthropod and filarial Wolbachia strains, these nexuses appear to lie on a continuum in different hosts. Here, we consider how iron metabolism may represent a fundamental aspect of host homeostasis that is impacted by Wolbachia infection, connecting disparate pathways ranging from the provision of haem and ATP to programmed cell death, aging, and the recycling of intracellular resources. Depending on how Wolbachia and host cells interact across networks that depend on iron, the gradient between parasitism and mutualism may shift dynamically in some systems, or alternatively, stabilise on one or the other end of the spectrum.
Filarial nematodes (superfamily Filarioidea) are responsible for an annual global health burden of ?6.3 million disability-adjusted life-years, which represents the greatest single component of morbidity attributable to helminths affecting humans. No vaccine exists for the major filarial diseases, lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis; in part because research on protective immunity against filariae has been constrained by the inability of the human-parasitic species to complete their lifecycles in laboratory mice. However, the rodent filaria Litomosoides sigmodontis has become a popular experimental model, as BALB/c mice are fully permissive for its development and reproduction. Here, we provide a comprehensive analysis of excretory-secretory products from L. sigmodontis across five lifecycle stages and identifications of host proteins associated with first-stage larvae (microfilariae) in the blood. Applying intensity-based quantification, we determined the abundance of 302 unique excretory-secretory proteins, of which 64.6% were present in quantifiable amounts only from gravid adult female nematodes. This lifecycle stage, together with immature microfilariae, released four proteins that have not previously been evaluated as vaccine candidates: a predicted 28.5 kDa filaria-specific protein, a zonadhesin and SCO-spondin-like protein, a vitellogenin, and a protein containing six metridin-like ShK toxin domains. Female nematodes also released two proteins derived from the obligate Wolbachia symbiont. Notably, excretory-secretory products from all parasite stages contained several uncharacterized members of the transthyretin-like protein family. Furthermore, biotin labeling revealed that redox proteins and enzymes involved in purinergic signaling were enriched on the adult nematode cuticle. Comparison of the L. sigmodontis adult secretome with that of the human-infective filarial nematode Brugia malayi (reported previously in three independent published studies) identified differences that suggest a considerable underlying diversity of potential immunomodulators. The molecules identified in L. sigmodontis excretory-secretory products show promise not only for vaccination against filarial infections, but for the amelioration of allergy and autoimmune diseases.
Wolbachia are common endosymbionts of terrestrial arthropods, and are also found in nematodes: the animal-parasitic filaria, and the plant-parasite Radopholus similis. Lateral transfer of Wolbachia DNA to the host genome is common. We generated a draft genome sequence for the strongyloidean nematode parasite Dictyocaulus viviparus, the cattle lungworm. In the assembly, we identified nearly 1 Mb of sequence with similarity to Wolbachia. The fragments were unlikely to derive from a live Wolbachia infection: most were short, and the genes were disabled through inactivating mutations. Many fragments were co-assembled with definitively nematode-derived sequence. We found limited evidence of expression of the Wolbachia-derived genes. The D. viviparus Wolbachia genes were most similar to filarial strains and strains from the host-promiscuous clade F. We conclude that D. viviparus was infected by Wolbachia in the past, and that clade F-like symbionts may have been the source of filarial Wolbachia infections.
Onchocerciasis is a debilitating neglected tropical disease caused by infection with the filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Adult worms live in subcutaneous tissues and produce large numbers of microfilariae that migrate to the skin and eyes. The disease is spread by black flies of the genus Simulium following ingestion of microfilariae that develop into infective stage larvae in the insect. Currently, transmission is monitored by capture and dissection of black flies and microscopic examination of parasites, or using the polymerase chain reaction to determine the presence of parasite DNA in pools of black flies. In this study we identified a new DNA biomarker, encoding O. volvulus glutathione S-transferase 1a (OvGST1a), to detect O. volvulus infection in vector black flies. We developed an OvGST1a-based loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assay where amplification of specific target DNA is detectable using turbidity or by a hydroxy naphthol blue color change. The results indicated that the assay is sensitive and rapid, capable of detecting DNA equivalent to less than one microfilaria within 60 minutes. The test is highly specific for the human parasite, as no cross-reaction was detected using DNA from the closely related and sympatric cattle parasite Onchocerca ochengi. The test has the potential to be developed further as a field tool for use in the surveillance of transmission before and after implementation of mass drug administration programs for onchocerciasis.
Onchocerciasis (river blindness), caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, is a major cause of visual impairment and dermatitis in sub-Saharan Africa. As O. volvulus contains an obligatory bacterial symbiont (Wolbachia), it is susceptible to antibiotic chemotherapy, although current regimens are considered too prolonged for community-level control programmes. The aim of this study was to compare the efficacy of oxytetracycline or rifampicin, administered separately or in combination, against a close relative of O. volvulus (Onchocerca ochengi) in cattle. Six animals per group were treated with continuous or intermittent oxytetracycline regimens and effects on adult worm viability, dermal microfilarial loads and Wolbachia density in worm tissues were assessed. Subsequently, the efficacy of three-week regimens of oxytetracycline or rifampicin alone and a combination regimen were compared, and rifampicin levels in plasma and skin were quantified. A six-month regimen of oxytetracycline with monthly dosing was strongly adulticidal, while three-week and six-week regimens exhibited weaker adulticidal effects. However, all three regimens achieved >2-log reductions in microfilarial load. In contrast, rifampicin monotherapy and oxytetracycline-rifampicin duotherapy failed to induce substantive reductions in either adult worm burden or microfilarial load; although a borderline effect on Wolbachia density was observed following duotherapy. Dermal rifampicin levels were maintained above the MIC for >24 hours after a single intravenous dose. We conclude that oxytetracycline-rifampicin duotherapy is less efficacious against O. ochengi than oxytetracycline alone. Further studies will be required to determine whether rifampicin reduces oxytetracycline bioavailability in this system, as suggested by human studies using other tetracycline-rifampicin combinations.
Wolbachia, endosymbiotic bacteria of the order Rickettsiales, are widespread in arthropods but also present in nematodes. In arthropods, A and B supergroup Wolbachia are generally associated with distortion of host reproduction. In filarial nematodes, including some human parasites, multiple lines of experimental evidence indicate that C and D supergroup Wolbachia are essential for the survival of the host, and here the symbiotic relationship is considered mutualistic. The origin of this mutualistic endosymbiosis is of interest for both basic and applied reasons: How does a parasite become a mutualist? Could intervention in the mutualism aid in treatment of human disease? Correct rooting and high-quality resolution of Wolbachia relationships are required to resolve this question. However, because of the large genetic distance between Wolbachia and the nearest outgroups, and the limited number of genomes so far available for large-scale analyses, current phylogenies do not provide robust answers. We therefore sequenced the genome of the D supergroup Wolbachia endosymbiont of Litomosoides sigmodontis, revisited the selection of loci for phylogenomic analyses, and performed a phylogenomic analysis including available complete genomes (from isolates in supergroups A, B, C, and D). Using 90 orthologous genes with reliable phylogenetic signals, we obtained a robust phylogenetic reconstruction, including a highly supported root to the Wolbachia phylogeny between a (A + B) clade and a (C + D) clade. Although we currently lack data from several Wolbachia supergroups, notably F, our analysis supports a model wherein the putatively mutualist endosymbiotic relationship between Wolbachia and nematodes originated from a single transition event.
The bacterium Wolbachia (order Rickettsiales), representing perhaps the most abundant vertically transmitted microbe worldwide, infects arthropods and filarial nematodes. In arthropods, Wolbachia can induce reproductive alterations and interfere with the transmission of several arthropod-borne pathogens. In addition, Wolbachia is an obligate mutualist of the filarial parasites that cause lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis in the tropics. Targeting Wolbachia with tetracycline antibiotics leads to sterilisation and ultimately death of adult filariae. However, several weeks of treatment are required, restricting the implementation of this control strategy. To date, the response of Wolbachia to stress has not been investigated, and almost nothing is known about global regulation of gene expression in this organism. We exposed an arthropod Wolbachia strain to doxycycline in vitro, and analysed differential expression by directional RNA-seq and label-free, quantitative proteomics. We found that Wolbachia responded not only by modulating expression of the translation machinery, but also by upregulating nucleotide synthesis and energy metabolism, while downregulating outer membrane proteins. Moreover, Wolbachia increased the expression of a key component of the twin-arginine translocase (tatA) and a phosphate ABC transporter ATPase (PstB); the latter is associated with decreased susceptibility to antimicrobials in free-living bacteria. Finally, the downregulation of 6S RNA during translational inhibition suggests that this small RNA is involved in growth rate control. Despite its highly reduced genome, Wolbachia shows a surprising ability to regulate gene expression during exposure to a potent stressor. Our findings have general relevance for the chemotherapy of obligate intracellular bacteria and the mechanistic basis of persistence in the Rickettsiales.
Onchocerca ochengi, a filarial parasite of cattle, represents the closest relative of the human pathogen, Onchocerca volvulus. Both species harbour Wolbachia endosymbionts and are remarkable in that adult female worms remain viable but sessile for many years while surrounded by host cells and antibodies. The basis of the symbiosis between filariae and Wolbachia is thought to be metabolic, although a role for Wolbachia in immune evasion has received little attention. Neutrophils are attracted to Wolbachia, but following antibiotic chemotherapy they are replaced by eosinophils that degranulate on the worm cuticle. However, it is unclear whether the eosinophils are involved in parasite killing or if they are attracted secondarily to dying worms. In this study, cattle infected with Onchocerca ochengi received adulticidal regimens of oxytetracycline or melarsomine. In contrast to oxytetracycline, melarsomine did not directly affect Wolbachia viability. Eosinophil degranulation increased significantly only in the oxytetracycline group; whereas nodular gene expression of bovine neutrophilic chemokines was lowest in this group. Moreover, intense eosinophil degranulation was initially associated with worm vitality, not degeneration. Taken together, these data offer strong support for the hypothesis that Wolbachia confers longevity on O. ochengi through a defensive mutualism, which diverts a potentially lethal effector cell response.
Human onchocerciasis, also known as River Blindness, is a debilitating disease caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus. Many, but not all, filarial nematodes carry within their tissues endosymbiotic, Rickettsia-like bacteria of the genus Wolbachia. Onchocerca spp. infections in cattle offer the most relevant, analogous host-parasite model system. West African cattle are commonly co-infected with four Onchocerca spp.; two of these are Wolbachia-positive (Onchocerca gutturosa and Onchocerca ochengi), and the remainder are of unknown Wolbachia status (Onchocerca dukei and Onchocerca armillata). Previous studies have suggested that worm survival is dependent on this bacterium. O. armillata, an abundant parasite of African cattle that has received little attention, is a primitive species that may lack Wolbachia. The objectives of this study were to determine if O. armillata carries Wolbachia and to provide preliminary descriptions of the host inflammatory cell environment around the adult worms. The findings may support or refute the hypothesis that a prime contribution of Wolbachia is to permit long-term survival and reproduction of certain Onchocerca spp. (including O. volvulus in humans). O. armillata adult worms were found in the aorta of 90.7% of cattle (n=54) slaughtered at an abattoir in Ngaoundéré, Adamawa Region, Cameroon. The presence of Wolbachia in O. armillata was confirmed by a specific anti-Wolbachia surface protein antibody detected using a peroxidase conjugate (immunohistochemistry) and PCR for detection of Wolbachia-specific sequences within DNA extracts from frozen worms. Tissue sections stained with haematoxylin and eosin showed the host cell response to be dominated by macrophages and fibroblasts. This is unusual compared with nodule-dwelling Wolbachia-positive Onchocerca spp., where the host response is typically characterised by granulocytes, and suggests that the mechanisms for worm survival employed by this species (which is probably motile) may differ.
Human onchocerciasis, caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, is controlled almost exclusively by the drug ivermectin, which prevents pathology by targeting the microfilariae. However, this reliance on a single control tool has led to interest in vaccination as a potentially complementary strategy. Here, we describe the results of a trial in West Africa to evaluate a multivalent, subunit vaccine for onchocerciasis in the naturally evolved host-parasite relationship of Onchocerca ochengi in cattle. Naïve calves, reared in fly-proof accommodation, were immunised with eight recombinant antigens of O. ochengi, administered separately with either Freunds adjuvant or alum. The selected antigens were orthologues of O. volvulus recombinant proteins that had previously been shown to confer protection against filarial larvae in rodent models and, in some cases, were recognised by serum antibodies from putatively immune humans. The vaccine was highly immunogenic, eliciting a mixed IgG isotype response. Four weeks after the final immunisation, vaccinated and adjuvant-treated control calves were exposed to natural parasite transmission by the blackfly vectors in an area of Cameroon hyperendemic for O. ochengi. After 22 months, all the control animals had patent infections (i.e., microfilaridermia), compared with only 58% of vaccinated cattle (P = 0.015). This study indicates that vaccination to prevent patent infection may be an achievable goal in onchocerciasis, reducing both the pathology and transmissibility of the infection. The cattle model has also demonstrated its utility for preclinical vaccine discovery, although much research will be required to achieve the requisite target product profile of a clinical candidate.
The ?-proteobacterium Wolbachia is probably the most prevalent, vertically transmitted symbiont on Earth. In contrast with its wide distribution in arthropods, Wolbachia is restricted to one family of animal-parasitic nematodes, the Onchocercidae. This includes filarial pathogens such as Onchocerca volvulus, the cause of human onchocerciasis, or river blindness. The symbiosis between filariae and Wolbachia is obligate, although the basis of this dependency is not fully understood. Previous studies suggested that Wolbachia may provision metabolites (e.g., haem, riboflavin, and nucleotides) and/or contribute to immune defense. Importantly, Wolbachia is restricted to somatic tissues in adult male worms, whereas females also harbor bacteria in the germline. We sought to characterize the nature of the symbiosis between Wolbachia and O. ochengi, a bovine parasite representing the closest relative of O. volvulus. First, we sequenced the complete genome of Wolbachia strain wOo, which revealed an inability to synthesize riboflavin de novo. Using RNA-seq, we also generated endobacterial transcriptomes from male soma and female germline. In the soma, transcripts for membrane transport and respiration were up-regulated, while the gonad exhibited enrichment for DNA replication and translation. The most abundant Wolbachia proteins, as determined by geLC-MS, included ligands for mammalian Toll-like receptors. Enzymes involved in nucleotide synthesis were dominant among metabolism-related proteins, whereas the haem biosynthetic pathway was poorly represented. We conclude that Wolbachia may have a mitochondrion-like function in the soma, generating ATP for its host. Moreover, the abundance of immunogenic proteins in wOo suggests a role in diverting the immune system toward an ineffective antibacterial response.
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