Wbm0076, a candidate effector protein of the Wolbachia endosymbiont of Brugia malayi, disrupts eukaryotic actin dynamics

M. K. Mills, L. G. McCabe, E. M. Rodrigue, K. F. Lechtreck and V. J. Starai,  PLoS Pathogens,  19:e1010777. 2023.

Brugia malayi, a parasitic roundworm of humans, is colonized by the obligate intracellular bacterium, Wolbachia pipientis. The symbiosis between this nematode and bacterium is essential for nematode reproduction and long-term survival in a human host. Therefore, identifying molecular mechanisms required by Wolbachia to persist in and colonize B. malayi tissues will provide new essential information regarding the basic biology of this endosymbiosis. Wolbachia utilize a Type IV secretion system to translocate so-called “effector” proteins into the cytosol of B. malayi cells to promote colonization of the eukaryotic host. However, the characterization of these Wolbachia secreted proteins has remained elusive due to the genetic intractability of both organisms. Strikingly, expression of the candidate Wolbachia Type IV-secreted effector protein, Wbm0076, in the surrogate eukaryotic cell model, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, resulted in the disruption of the yeast actin cytoskeleton and inhibition of endocytosis. Genetic analyses show that Wbm0076 is a member of the family of Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome proteins (WAS [p]), a well-conserved eukaryotic protein family required for the organization of actin skeletal structures. Thus, Wbm0076 likely plays a central role in the active cell-to-cell movement of Wolbachia throughout B. malayi tissues during nematode development. As most Wolbachia isolates sequenced to date encode at least partial orthologs of wBm0076, we find it likely that the ability of Wolbachia to directly manipulate host actin dynamics is an essential requirement of all Wolbachia endosymbioses, independent of host cell species.

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