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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 14;103(11):4252-7. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Interaction between the membrane protein of a pathogen and insect microfilament complex determines insect-vector specificity.

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Laboratory of Plant Pathology, Department of Agricultural and Environmental Biology, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan.


Many insect-transmissible pathogens are transmitted by specific insect species and not by others, even if they are closely related. The molecular mechanisms underlying such strict pathogen-insect specificity are poorly understood. Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris, OY strain, line W (OY), is a phytopathogenic bacterium transmitted from plant to plant by sap-feeding insect vectors (leafhoppers). Our study focused on an abundant cell-surface membrane protein of the phytoplasma named antigenic membrane protein (Amp), which is not homologous with any reported functional protein. Immunofluorescence microscopy of the phytoplasma-infected insect showed that OY phytoplasma was localized to the microfilaments of the visceral smooth muscle surrounding the insect's intestinal tract. The affinity column assay showed that Amp forms a complex with three insect proteins: actin, myosin heavy chain, and myosin light chain. Amp-microfilament complexes were detected in all OY-transmitting leafhopper species, but not in the non-OY-transmitting leafhoppers, suggesting that the formation of the Amp-microfilament complex is correlated with the phytoplasma-transmitting capability of leafhoppers. Although several studies have reported interactions between pathogens and mammalian microfilaments, this is an example of host-specific interactions between a bacterial surface protein and a host microfilament in insect cells. Our data also suggest that the utilization of a host microfilament may be a universal system for pathogenic bacteria infecting mammals or insects.

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