Tissue tropism and metabolic pathways of Midichloria mitochondrii suggest tissue-specific functions in the symbiosis with Ixodes ricinus.


Department of Biology and Biotechnology, University of Pavia, via Ferrata 9, 27100, Pavia, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]


A wide range of arthropod species harbour bacterial endosymbionts in various tissues, many of them playing important roles in the fitness and biology of their hosts. In several cases, many different symbionts have been reported to coexist simultaneously within the same host and synergistic or antagonistic interactions can occur between them. While the associations with endosymbiotic bacteria have been widely studied in many insect species, in ticks such interactions are less investigated. The females and immatures of Ixodes ricinus (Ixodidae), the most common hard tick in Europe, harbour the intracellular endosymbiont "Candidatus Midichloria mitochondrii" with a prevalence up to 100%, suggesting a mutualistic relationship. Considering that the tissue distribution of a symbiont might be indicative of its functional role in the physiology of the host, we investigated M. mitochondrii specific localization pattern and the corresponding abundance in selected organs of I. ricinus females. We paired these experiments with in silico analysis of the metabolic pathways of M. mitochondrii, inferred from the available genome sequence, and additionally compared the presence of these pathways in seven other symbionts commonly harboured by ticks to try to obtain a comparative understanding of their biological effects on the tick hosts. M. mitochondrii was found to be abundant in ovaries and tracheae of unfed I. ricinus, and in ovaries, Malpighian tubules and salivary glands of semi-engorged females. These results, together with the in silico metabolic reconstruction allow to hypothesize that the bacterium could play multiple tissue-specific roles in the host, both enhancing the host fitness (supplying essential nutrients, enhancing the reproductive fitness, helping in the anti-oxidative defence, in the energy production and in the maintenance of homeostasis and water balance) and/or for ensuring its presence in the host population (nutrients acquisition, vertical and horizontal transmission). The ability of M. mitochondrii to colonize different tissues allows to speculate that distinctive sub-populations may display different specializations in accordance with tissue tropism. Our hypotheses should be corroborated with future nutritional and physiological experiments for a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying this symbiotic interaction.


Anti-oxidative defence,Energetic provisioning,Midichloria mitochondrii,Nutrient provisioning,Osmotic regulation,Tick endosymbionts,

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