Distinct Wolbachia localization patterns in oocytes of diverse host species reveal multiple strategies of maternal transmission

Y. A. Radousky, M. T. J. Hague, S. Fowler, E. Paneru, A. Codina, C. Rugamas, G. Hartzog, B. S. Cooper and W. Sullivan,  Genetics,  2023.

A broad array of endosymbionts radiate through host populations via vertical transmission, yet much remains unknown concerning the cellular basis, diversity and routes underlying this transmission strategy. Here we address these issues, by examining the cellular distributions of Wolbachia strains that diverged up to 50 million years ago in the oocytes of 18 divergent Drosophila species. This analysis revealed three Wolbachia distribution patterns: 1) a tight clustering at the posterior pole plasm (the site of germline formation); 2) a concentration at the posterior pole plasm, but with a significant bacteria population distributed throughout the oocyte; 3) and a distribution throughout the oocyte, with none or very few located at the posterior pole plasm. Examination of this latter class indicates Wolbachia accesses the posterior pole plasm during the interval between late oogenesis and the blastoderm formation. We also find that one Wolbachia strain in this class concentrates in the posterior somatic follicle cells that encompass the pole plasm of the developing oocyte. In contrast, strains in which Wolbachia concentrate at the posterior pole plasm generally exhibit no or few Wolbachia in the follicle cells associated with the pole plasm. Taken together, these studies suggest that for some Drosophila species, Wolbachia invade the germline from neighboring somatic follicle cells. Phylogenomic analysis indicates that closely related Wolbachia strains tend to exhibit similar patterns of posterior localization, suggesting that specific localization strategies are a function of Wolbachia-associated factors. Previous studies revealed that endosymbionts rely on one of two distinct routes of vertical transmission: continuous maintenance in the germline (germline-to-germline) or a more circuitous route via the soma (germline-to-soma-to-germline). Here we provide compelling evidence that Wolbachia strains infecting Drosophila species maintain the diverse arrays of cellular mechanisms necessary for both of these distinct transmission routes. This characteristic may account for its ability to infect and spread globally through a vast range of host insect species.

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