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Vet Parasitol. 2001 Jul 12;98(1-3):215-38.

Wolbachia in filarial nematodes: evolutionary aspects and implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of filarial diseases.

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Dipartimento di Patologia Animale, Igiene e Sanità Pubblica Veterinaria, Sezione di Patologia, Generale e Parassitologia, Università di Milano, 20133 Milan, Italy.


The presence of intracellular bacteria in the body of various species of filarial nematodes, including important parasites such as Brugia malayi, Dirofilaria immitis, and Onchocerca volvulus, was observed as early as the mid-1970s. These bacteria were shown to be transovarially transmitted (from the female worm to the offspring) and to be present in significant amounts in the body of the nematode. As highlighted by their discoverers, the potential importance of these bacteria is fairly obvious: (1) bacteria-derived molecules should be considered as having an immunological and pathological role in filarial diseases; (2) the interaction between the bacteria and the filarial host deserves investigation, in view of the possibility that the bacteria are needed by the host nematode and could thus represent a target for therapy. Other authors, independently from the discovery of these intracellular bacteria, showed that the antibiotic tetracycline (which is well known for its efficacy on intracellular bacteria) had detrimental effects on two species of filarial nematodes (Brugia pahangi and Litomosoides sigmodontis). It is therefore surprising that for more than 20 years, no further investigations focused on the bacteria of filarial nematodes, nor on the anti-filarial properties of tetracycline. Recently, the bacteria of filarial nematodes have been independently "rediscovered" by research groups from the schools of Hamburg, Liverpool and Milan. These bacteria are now classified as Wolbachia, and the basic aspects of their phylogenetic history and relationship with the Wolbachia of arthropods have been reconstructed. In addition, their implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of filarial diseases have started to be uncovered. This paper, which is authored by representatives of the three European schools who reopened this research area, reviews our present knowledge of these fascinating microorganisms, highlighting the complexity of a symbiotic system which involves, in addition to the nematode and its bacterium, the vertebrate host.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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