Wolbachia bacteria in filarial immunity and disease


: Mark J.Taylor, Cellular Immunology Laboratory, Division of Molecular Biology and Immunology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK (e-mail: mark.taylor@liv.ac.uk)


Lymphatic filarial nematodes are infected with endosymbiotic Wolbachia bacteria. Lipopolysaccharide from these bacteria is the major activator of innate inflammatory responses induced directly by the parasite. Here, we propose a mechanism by which Wolbachia initiates acute inflammatory responses associated with death of parasites, leading to acute filarial lymphangitis and adverse reactions to antifilarial chemotherapy. We also speculate that repeated exposure to acute inflammatory responses and the chronic release of bacteria, results in damage to infected lymphatics and desensitization of the innate immune system. These events will result in an increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections, which cause acute dermatolymphangitis associated with lymphoedema and elephantiasis. The recognition of the contribution of endosymbiotic bacteria to filarial disease could be exploited for clinical intervention by the targeting of bacteria with antibiotics in an attempt to reduce the development of filarial pathology.