Obligatory symbiotic Wolbachia endobacteria are absent from Loa loa

Dietrich W. Büttner, Samuel Wanji, Chiara Bazzocchi, Odile Bain, Peter Fischer

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Background : Many filarial nematodes harbour Wolbachia endobacteria. These endobacteria are transmitted vertically from one generation to the next. In several filarial species that have been studied to date they are obligatory symbionts of their hosts. Elimination of the endobacteria by antibiotics interrupts the embryogenesis and hence the production of microfilariae. The medical implication of this being that the use of doxycycline for the treatment of human onchocerciasis and bancroftian filariasis leads to elimination of the Wolbachia and hence sterilisation of the female worms. Wolbachia play a role in the immunopathology of patients and may contribute to side effects seen after antifilarial chemotherapy. In several studies Wolbachia were not observed in Loa loa. Since these results have been doubted, and because of the medical significance, several independent methods were applied to search for Wolbachia in L. loa. Methods: Loa loa and Onchocerca volvulus were studied by electron microscopy, histology with silver staining, and immunohistology using antibodies against WSP, Wolbachia aspartate aminotransferase, and heat shock protein 60. The results achieved with L. loa and O. volvulus were compared. Searching for Wolbachia, genes were amplified by PCR coding for the bacterial 16S rDNA, the FTSZ cell division protein, and WSP. Results: No Wolbachia endobacteria were discovered by immunohistology in 13 male and 14 female L. loa worms and in numerous L. loa microfilariae. In contrast, endobacteria were found in large numbers in O. volvulus and 14 other filaria species. No intracellular bacteria were seen in electron micrographs of oocytes and young morulae of L. loa in contrast to O. volvulus. In agreement with these results, Wolbachia DNA was not detected by PCR in three male and six female L. loa worms and in two microfilariae samples of L. loa. Conclusions: Loa loa do not harbour obligatory symbiotic Wolbachia endobacteria in essential numbers to enable their efficient vertical transmission or to play a role in production of microfilariae. Exclusively, the filariae cause the immunopathology of loiasis is patients and the adverse side effects after antifilarial chemotherapy. Doxycycline cannot be used to cure loiais but it probably does not represent a risk for L. loa patients when administered to patients with coinfections of onchocerciasis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalFilaria Journal
StatePublished - May 9 2003


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