Bacterial associates are ubiquitous among insects, including mosquitoes. Wolbachia are obligate endosymbiotic bacteria that infect numerous insects, many of which are vectors of pathogenic microorganisms. Interest has centered around Wolbachia as a means of reducing arthropod-borne disease due to the capacity of the bacteria to manipulate the reproduction of the insect host, which in turn favors their own transmission.
Recent studies show that Wolbachia can directly cause pathogen interference (PI) in their invertebrate hosts, whereby infected insects are less susceptible to pathogens. Infection with Wolbachia bacteria has been shown to reduce pathogen levels in multiple mosquito species. Anopheles mosquitoes (the obligate vectors of human malaria) are naturally uninfected with Wolbachia, and stable artificial infections have not yet succeeded in this genus; however somatic infections can be established that can be used to assess the effect of Wolbachia infection in Anopheles. Here, we show that infection with two different Wolbachia strains can significantly reduce levels of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in Anopheles gambiae. After infection, Wolbachia disseminate throughout the mosquito but are notably absent from the gut and ovaries. The mosquito immune system is first induced in response to Wolbachia infection, but is then suppressed as the infection progresses. The Wolbachia strain wMelPop is highly virulent to Anopheles only after blood feeding. If stable infections can be established in Anopheles, and they act in a similar manner to somatic infections, Wolbachia could potentially be used as part of a strategy to control malaria.
Wolbachia Infections Are Virulent and Inhibit the Human Malaria Parasite Plasmodium Falciparum in Anopheles Gambiae. 2011 PLoS Pathog 7(5): e1002043. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002043
Endosymbiotic Wolbachia bacteria are potent modulators of pathogen infection and transmission in multiple naturally and artificially infected insect species, including important vectors of human pathogens. Anopheles mosquitoes are naturally uninfected with Wolbachia, and stable artificial infections have not yet succeeded in this genus. Recent techniques have enabled establishment of somatic Wolbachia infections in Anopheles. Here, we characterize somatic infections of two diverse Wolbachia strains (wMelPop and wAlbB) in Anopheles gambiae, the major vector of human malaria. After infection, wMelPop disseminates widely in the mosquito, infecting the fat body, head, sensory organs and other tissues but is notably absent from the midgut and ovaries. Wolbachia initially induces the mosquito immune system, coincident with initial clearing of the infection, but then suppresses expression of immune genes, coincident with Wolbachia replication in the mosquito. Both wMelPop and wAlbB significantly inhibit Plasmodium falciparum oocyst levels in the mosquito midgut. Although not virulent in non-bloodfed mosquitoes, wMelPop exhibits a novel phenotype and is extremely virulent for approximately 12–24 hours post-bloodmeal, after which surviving mosquitoes exhibit similar mortality trajectories to control mosquitoes. The data suggest that if stable transinfections act in a similar manner to somatic infections, Wolbachia could potentially be used as part of a strategy to control the Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit malaria.