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FASEB J. 2007 Apr;21(4):1058-66. Epub 2007 Jan 16.

Host-symbiont interactions of the primary endosymbiont of human head and body lice.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales Bangor, Bangor LL57 2UW, UK.


The first mycetome was discovered more than 340 yr ago in the human louse. Despite the remarkable biology and medical and social importance of human lice, its primary endosymbiont has eluded identification and characterization. Here, we report the host-symbiont interaction of the mycetomic bacterium of the head louse Pediculus humanus capitis and the body louse P. h. humanus. The endosymbiont represents a new bacterial lineage in the gamma-Proteobacteria. Its closest sequenced relative is Arsenophonus nasoniae, from which it differs by more than 10%. A. nasoniae is a male-killing endosymbiont of jewel wasps. Using microdissection and multiphoton confocal microscopy, we show the remarkable interaction of this bacterium with its host. This endosymbiont is unique because it occupies sequentially four different mycetomes during the development of its host, undergoes three cycles of proliferation, changes in length from 2-4 microm to more than 100 microm, and has two extracellular migrations, during one of which the endosymbionts have to outrun its host's immune cells. The host and its symbiont have evolved one of the most complex interactions: two provisional or transitory mycetomes, a main mycetome and a paired filial mycetome. Despite the close relatedness of body and head lice, differences are present in the mycetomic provisioning and the immunological response.

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