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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 May;5(5):e1174. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001174. Epub 2011 May 24.

Tissue and stage-specific distribution of Wolbachia in Brugia malayi.

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Infectious Diseases Division, Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.



Most filarial parasite species contain Wolbachia, obligatory bacterial endosymbionts that are crucial for filarial development and reproduction. They are targets for alternative chemotherapy, but their role in the biology of filarial nematodes is not well understood. Light microscopy provides important information on morphology, localization and potential function of these bacteria. Surprisingly, immunohistology and in situ hybridization techniques have not been widely used to monitor Wolbachia distribution during the filarial life cycle.


A monoclonal antibody directed against Wolbachia surface protein and in situ hybridization targeting Wolbachia 16S rRNA were used to monitor Wolbachia during the life cycle of B. malayi. In microfilariae and vector stage larvae only a few cells contain Wolbachia. In contrast, large numbers of Wolbachia were detected in the lateral chords of L4 larvae, but no endobacteria were detected in the genital primordium. In young adult worms (5 weeks p.i.), a massive expansion of Wolbachia was observed in the lateral chords adjacent to ovaries or testis, but no endobacteria were detected in the growth zone of the ovaries, uterus, the growth zone of the testis or the vas deferens. Confocal laser scanning and transmission electron microscopy showed that numerous Wolbachia are aligned towards the developing ovaries and single endobacteria were detected in the germline. In inseminated females (8 weeks p.i.) Wolbachia were observed in the ovaries, embryos and in decreasing numbers in the lateral chords. In young males Wolbachia were found in distinct zones of the testis and in large numbers in the lateral chords in the vicinity of testicular tissue but never in mature spermatids or spermatozoa.


Immunohistology and in situ hybridization show distinct tissue and stage specific distribution patterns for Wolbachia in B. malayi. Extensive multiplication of Wolbachia occurs in the lateral chords of L4 and young adults adjacent to germline cells.

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