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Insect Mol Biol. 2017 Jun;26(3):266-276. doi: 10.1111/imb.12292. Epub 2017 Jan 20.

Comparison of the proliferation and excretion of Bartonella quintana between body and head lice following oral challenge.

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Department of Agricultural Biotechnology, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea.
Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences and Environmental Sciences Program, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL, USA.
Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Defense Program, and Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Department of Entomology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA.
Research Institute for Agriculture and Life Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea.
Department of Veterinary & Animal Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA.


Human body and head lice are highly related haematophagous ectoparasites but only the body louse has been shown to transmit Bartonella quintana, the causative agent of trench fever. The mechanisms by which body lice became a vector for B. quintana, however, are poorly understood. Following oral challenge, green fluorescent protein-expressing B. quintana proliferated over 9 days postchallenge with the number of bacteria being significantly higher in whole body vs. head lice. The numbers of B. quintana detected in faeces from infected lice, however, were approximately the same in both lice. Nevertheless, the viability of B. quintana was significantly higher in body louse faeces. Comparison of immune responses in alimentary tract tissues revealed that basal transcription levels of peptidoglycan recognition protein and defensins were lower in body lice and the transcription of defensin 1 was up-regulated by oral challenge with wild-type B. quintana in head but not in body lice. In addition, the level of cytotoxic reactive oxygen species generated by epithelial cells was significantly lower in body lice. Although speculative at this time, the reduced immune response is consistent with the higher vector competence seen in body vs. head lice in terms of B. quintana infection.


Bartonella quintana; alimentary tract; bacterial challenge; body louse; head louse; human lice; immune response; reactive oxygen species; trench fever

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