Wolbachia endosymbionts manipulate the self-renewal and differentiation of germline stem cells to reinforce fertility of their fruit fly host

S. L. Russell, J. R. Castillo and W. T. Sullivan,  PLOS Biology,  21:e3002335. 2023.

The alphaproteobacterium Wolbachia pipientis infects arthropod and nematode species worldwide, making it a key target for host biological control. Wolbachia-driven host reproductive manipulations, such as cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), are credited for catapulting these intracellular bacteria to high frequencies in host populations. Positive, perhaps mutualistic, reproductive manipulations also increase infection frequencies, but are not well understood. Here, we identify molecular and cellular mechanisms by which Wolbachia influences the molecularly distinct processes of germline stem cell (GSC) self-renewal and differentiation. We demonstrate that wMel infection rescues the fertility of flies lacking the translational regulator mei-P26and is sufficient to sustain infertile homozygous mei-P26knockdown stocks indefinitely. Cytology revealed that wMel mitigates the impact of mei-P26 loss through restoring proper pMad, Bam, Sxl, and Orb expression. In Oregon R files with wild-type fertility, wMel infection elevates lifetime egg hatch rates. Exploring these phenotypes through dual-RNAseq quantification of eukaryotic and bacterial transcripts revealed that wMel infection rescues and offsets many gene expression changes induced by meiP26loss at the mRNA level. Overall, we show that wMel infection beneficially reinforces host fertility at mRNA, protein, and phenotypic levels, and these mechanisms may promote the emergence of mutualism and the breakdown of host reproductive manipulations.

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