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Vet Parasitol. 2008 Dec 10;158(3):191-5. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2008.09.014. Epub 2008 Sep 17.

Wolbachia and its influence on the pathology and immunology of Dirofilaria immitis infection.

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Department of Animal Health, University of Parma, Parma, Italy.


Since the definitive identification in 1995 of the bacterial endosymbiont Wolbachia that resides in different tissues of the filarial worm Dirofilaria immitis, there has been increasing interest to understand whether and what role it plays in the pathogenesis of and immune response to heartworm infection. The present study evaluated the effects of treatments on lung pathology in 20 beagle dogs experimentally infected with D. immitis. Dogs in Group 1 were treated with doxycycline (10 mg/kg/day) orally from weeks 0-6, 10-12, 16-18, 22-26, and 28-34. Dogs in Group 2 served as infected, non-treated controls. Dogs in Group 3 were given doxycycline as described for Group 1 combined with weekly oral doses of ivermectin (6 mcg/kg) for 34 weeks and intramuscular (IM) melarsomine (2.5 mg/kg) at week 24, followed by two additional melarsomine injections 24h apart 1 month later. Group 4 received only melarsomine as described for Group 3. Lung lesion criteria, scored by two independent blinded pathologists, included perivascular inflammation and endothelial proliferation. Doxycycline treatment alone had no effect on lesion scores, whereas the combination of doxycycline and ivermectin resulted in less severe perivascular inflammation. All lungs were evaluated for positive immunostaining for the Wolbachia surface protein (WSP). Control dogs showed numerous thrombi, intense perivascular and interstitial inflammation and, occasionally, positive staining for WSP. Interestingly, dogs receiving doxycycline/ivermectin/melarsomine showed significantly less severe arterial lesions and the virtual absence of thrombi.

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