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Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2004 May;135(1):57-67.

Population dynamics of Wolbachia bacterial endosymbionts in Brugia malayi.

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Filariasis Research Laboratory, Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK.


The human filarial nematode Brugia malayi contains an endosymbiotic bacterium, Wolbachia. We used real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) and microscopy to investigate the population dynamics of the bacterium-nematode association. Two Wolbachia (wsp and ftsZ) and one nematode (gst) genes were amplified from all life-cycle stages of B. malayi and results expressed as gene copies per worm and as Wolbachia/nematode ratios. Since the genes were single copy and there was one genome per Wolbachia, the gene copy numbers were equivalent to the numbers of bacteria. These were similar in microfilariae and the mosquito-borne larval stages (L2 and L3), with the lowest ratios of Wolbachia/nematode DNA. However, within 7 days of infection of the mammalian host, bacteria had increased 600-fold and the bacteria/worm ratio was the highest of all life-cycle stages. The rapid multiplication continued throughout L4 development, so that the major period of bacterial population growth occurred within 4 weeks of infection of the definitive host. Microscopy confirmed that there were few bacteria in mosquito-derived L3 but many, in large groups, in L4 collected 9 and 21 days after infection. In adult male worms up to 15 months of age, the bacterial populations were maintained, whilst in females, bacteria numbers increased as the worms matured and as the ovary and embryonic larval stages became infected. These results support the hypothesis that the bacteria are essential for larval development in the mammalian host and for the long-term survival of adult worms.

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