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Spatio-temporal distribution of Spiroplasma infections in the tsetse fly (Glossina fuscipes fuscipes) in northern Uganda

By Daniela I. Schneider, Norah Saarman, Maria G. Onyango, Chaz Hyseni, Robert Opiro, Richard Echodu, Michelle B. O’Neill, Danielle Bloch, Aurélien Vigneron, T.J. Johnson, Kirstin Dion, Brian L Weiss, Elizabeth Opiyo, Adalgisa Caccone, Serap Aksoy

Posted 28 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/591321 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007340)

Tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) are vectors of parasitic trypanosomes, which cause human (HAT) and animal African trypanosomiasis (AAT) in sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, Glossina fuscipes fuscipes (Gff) is the main vector of HAT, where it transmits Gambiense disease in the northwest and Rhodesiense disease in central, southeast and western regions. Endosymbionts can influence transmission efficiency of parasites through their insect vectors via conferring a protective effect against the parasite. It is known that the bacterium Spiroplasma is capable of protecting its Drosophila host from infection with a parasitic nematode. This endosymbiont can also impact its host's population structure via altering host reproductive traits. Here, we used field collections across 26 different Gff sampling sites in northern and western Uganda to investigate the association of Spiroplasma with geographic origin, seasonal conditions, Gff genetic background and sex, and trypanosome infection status. We also investigated the influence of Spiroplasma on Gff vector competence to trypanosome infections under laboratory conditions. Generalized linear models (GLM) showed that Spiroplasma probability was correlated with the geographic origin of Gff host and with the season of collection, with higher prevalence found in flies within the Albert Nile (0.42 vs 0.16) and Achwa River (0.36 vs 0.08) watersheds and with higher prevalence detected in flies collected in the intermediate than wet season. In contrast, there was no significant correlation of Spiroplasma prevalence with Gff host genetic background or sex once geographic origin was accounted for in generalized linear models. Additionally, we found a potential negative correlation of Spiroplasma with trypanosome infection, with only 2% of Spiroplasma infected flies harboring trypanosome co-infections. We also found that in a laboratory line of Gff, parasitic trypanosomes are less likely to colonize the midgut in individuals that harbor Spiroplasma infection. These results indicate that Spiroplasma infections in tsetse may be maintained by not only maternal but also via horizontal transmission routes, and Spiroplasma infections may also have important effects on trypanosome transmission efficiency of the host tsetse. Potential functional effects of Spiroplasma infection in Gff could have impacts on vector control approaches to reduce trypanosome infections.

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