Wolbachia distribution and cytoplasmic incompatibility during sperm development: The cyst as the basic cellular unit of CI expression

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The growth and distribution of the intracellular microbe Wolbachia pipientis during spermatogenesis in several different host/symbiont genetic combinations in Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans is described. Considerable intra- and inter-strain variation in Wolbachia density and tissue distribution was observed. Wolbachia were found inside spermatocytes and spermatids or within the somatic cyst cells surrounding the germ cells. Some strains displayed both tissue distributions. High rates of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) are correlated with high levels of Wolbachia only when spermatocytes and/or spermatids harbor the microbe. Wolbachia infection of somatic cyst cells, although sometimes present at high levels, did not result in significant CI expression. CI-inducing Wolbachia strains within D. simulans showed no distinguishable differences in distribution or density within infected spermatids. To dissect the relative contribution of host and symbiont to the expression of CI, Wolbachia from various host strains known to exhibit varying levels of CI were introgressed into new uninfected host genetic backgrounds. These introgression experiments confirm that the mod+/mod- phenotype is an intrinsic Wolbachia trait and is not determined by host factors. The level of sperm modification in those lines harboring Wolbachia capable of modifying sperm, however, is influenced by host genetic background. These results form the basis of the Wolbachia Infected Spermatocyte/Spermatid Hypothesis (WISSH). According to WISSH, Wolbachia infection in spermatocytes and then spermatids during sperm development is required for CI expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-198
Number of pages14
JournalMechanisms of Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • Drosophila
  • Endosymbiont
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Wolbachia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Wolbachia distribution and cytoplasmic incompatibility during sperm development: The cyst as the basic cellular unit of CI expression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this