The distribution and proliferation of the intracellular bacteria Wolbachia during spermatogenesis in Drosophila

Michael E. Clark, Zoe Veneti, Kostas Bourtzis, Timothy L. Karr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Wolbachia is a cytoplasmically inherited alpha-proteobacterium found in a wide range of host arthropod and nematode taxa. Wolbachia infection in Drosophila is closely associated with the expression of a unique form of post-fertilization lethality termed cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). This form of incompatibility is only expressed by infected males suggesting that Wolbachia exerts its effect during spermatogenesis. The growth and distribution of Wolbachia throughout sperm development in individual spermatocysts and elongating sperm bundles is described. Wolbachia growth within a developing cyst seems to begin during the pre-meiotic spermatocyte growth phase with the majority of bacteria accumulating during cyst elongation. Wolbachia are predominantly localized in the proximal end of the immature cyst, opposite the spermatid nuclei, and throughout development there appears little movement of Wolbachia between spermatids via the connecting cytoplasmic bridges. The overall number of new cysts infected as well as the number of spermatids/cysts infected seems to decrease with age and corresponds to the previously documented drop in CI with age. In contrast, in one CI expressing line of Drosophila melanogaster, fewer cysts are infected and a much greater degree of variation in numbers is observed between spermatids. Furthermore, the initiation and extent of the fastest period of Wolbachia growth in the D. melanogaster strain lags behind that of Drosophila simulans. The possible implications on the as yet unexplained mechanism of CI are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalMechanisms of Development
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • Drosophila
  • Endosymbiont
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Wolbachia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology


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