Intracellular bacteria in filarial nematodes were described as early as the 1970s, yet it was only with the work on Dirofilaria immitis, the agent of canine and feline heartworm disease, that these microorganisms were identified as belonging to Wolbachia, a genus known for encompassing bacteria infecting insects and other arthropods. The implications for the presence of intracellular bacteria in filarial nematodes is now the subject of intense research, particularly regarding their role in the immunology and pathogenesis of disease in infected humans and animals and as a possible target for therapy. Here, the authors report results on the immunohistochemical and immunogold staining of Wolbachia in D. immitis and Brugia pahangi using polyclonal antibodies raised against the recombinant Wolbachia surface protein (WSP). The bacteria were present in the lateral hypodermal chords of both male and female worms and in the reproductive tract of adult females (oocytes, morulae, microfilariae). In D. immitis and B. pahangi from animals treated with tetracycline, positive staining was observed in the lateral chords of adult males and females, but was absent from the oocytes and morulae. These results indicate that Wolbachia endosymbionts can be identified immunohistochemically with anti-WSP polyclonal antibodies, that their distribution matches that already described for Wolbachia of other filarial worms, and that antibiotic treatment may impede the vertical transmission of these bacteria. Unequivocal detection of Wolbachia is essential for the study of this symbiont, in particular to monitor the effects of antibiotic treatment on worms. The use of a specific marker for bacteria in their nematode hosts represents an extremely useful tool in evaluating the pathogenic role and the effect of antibiotic treatment on these potential targets in the control of filarial disease.
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