Background: Wolbachia are endosymbiotic bacteria that are frequently found in arthropods and nematodes. These maternally inherited bacteria manipulate host reproduction by several mechanisms including cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). CI is the most common phenotype induced by Wolbachia and results in the developmental arrest of embryos derived from crosses between Wolbachia-infected males and uninfected females. Although the molecular mechanisms of CI are currently unknown, several studies suggest that host sperm is modified by Wolbachia during spermatogenesis.
Results: We compared the gene expression of Drosophila melanogaster larval testes with and without the wMel strain of Wolbachia to identify candidate genes that could be involved in the interaction between Wolbachia and the insect host. Microarray, quantitative RT-PCR and in situ hybridization analyses were carried out on D.melanogaster larval testes to determine the effect of Wolbachia infection on host gene expression. A total of 296 genes were identified by microarray analysis to have at least a 1.5 fold change [q-value < 5%] in expression. When comparing Wolbachia-infected flies to uninfected flies, 167 genes were up-regulated and 129 genes down-regulated. Differential expression of genes related to metabolism, immunity, reproduction and other functions were observed. Quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) confirmed 12 genes are differentially expressed in the testes of the 3rd instar larvae of Wolbachia-infected and uninfected flies. In situ hybridization demonstrated that Wolbachia infection changes the expression of several genes putatively associated with spermatogenesis including JH induced protein-26 and Mst84Db, or involved in immune (kenny) or metabolism (CG4988-RA).
Conclusions: Wolbachia change the gene expression of 296 genes in the larval testes of D. melanogaster including genes related to metabolism, immunity and reproduction. Interestingly, most of the genes putatively involved in immunity were up-regulated in the presence of Wolbachia. In contrast, most of the genes putatively associated with reproduction (especially spermatogenesis) were down-regulated in the presence of Wolbachia. These results suggest Wolbachia may activate the immune pathway but inhibit spermatogenesis. Our data provide a significant panel of candidate genes that may be involved in the interaction between Wolbachia and their insect hosts. This forms a basis to help elucidate the underlying mechanisms of Wolbachia-induced CI in Drosophila and the influence of Wolbachia on spermatogenesis.