Cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) is a conditional sterility induced by the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis that infects reproductive tissues in many arthropods. Although CI provides a potential tool to control insect vectors of arthropod-borne diseases, the molecular basis for CI induction is unknown. We hypothesized that a Wolbachia-encoded, CI-inducing factor would be enriched in sperm recovered from spermathecae of female mosquitoes. Using SDS-PAGE and mass spectrometry, we detected peptides from the 56 kDa hypothetical protein, encoded by wPip_0282, associated with sperm transferred to females by Wolbachia infected males. We also detected peptides from the same protein in Wolbachia infected ovaries. Homologs of wPip_0282 and the co-transcribed downstream gene, wPip_0283, occur as multiple divergent copies in genomes of CI-inducing strains of Wolbachia. The operon is located in a genomic context that includes mobile genetic elements. The absence of wPip_0282 and wPip_0283 homologs from genomes of Wolbachia in filarial nematodes, as well as other members of the Rickettsiales, suggests a role as a candidate CI effector.
Wolbachia are obligate intracellular bacteria that cause cytoplasmic incompatibility in mosquitoes. In an incompatible cross, eggs of uninfected females fail to hatch when fertilized by sperm from infected males. We used polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and tandem mass spectrometry to identify Wolbachia proteins in infected mosquito gonads. These included surface proteins with masses of 25 and 18 kDa and the DNA binding protein, HU beta. Using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, we showed that the HU gene is transcribed in Wolbachia-infected Culex pipiens and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. We sequenced HU genes from four Wolbachia strains and compared deduced protein sequences with additional homologs from the databases. Among the Rickettsiales, Wolbachia HU has distinct N- and C-terminal basic/acidic amino acid motifs as well as a pair of conserved, cysteine residues.
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