Tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) vector pathogenic African trypanosomes, which cause sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in domesticated animals. Additionally, tsetse harbors 3 maternally transmitted endosymbiotic bacteria that modulate their host's physiology. Tsetse is highly resistant to infection with trypanosomes, and this phenotype depends on multiple physiological factors at the time of challenge. These factors include host age, density of maternally-derived trypanolytic effector molecules present in the gut, and symbiont status during development. In this study, we investigated the molecular mechanisms that result in tsetse's resistance to trypanosomes. We found that following parasite challenge, young susceptible tsetse present a highly attenuated immune response. In contrast, mature refractory flies express higher levels of genes associated with humoral (attacin and pgrp-lb) and epithelial (inducible nitric oxide synthase and dual oxidase) immunity. Additionally, we discovered that tsetse must harbor its endogenous microbiome during intrauterine larval development in order to present a parasite refractory phenotype during adulthood. Interestingly, mature aposymbiotic flies (GmmApo) present a strong immune response earlier in the infection process than do WT flies that harbor symbiotic bacteria throughout their entire lifecycle. However, this early response fails to confer significant resistance to trypanosomes. GmmApo adults present a structurally compromised peritrophic matrix (PM), which lines the fly midgut and serves as a physical barrier that separates luminal contents from immune responsive epithelial cells. We propose that the early immune response we observe in GmmApo flies following parasite challenge results from the premature exposure of gut epithelia to parasite-derived immunogens in the absence of a robust PM. Thus, tsetse's PM appears to regulate the timing of host immune induction following parasite challenge. Our results document a novel finding, which is the existence of a positive correlation between tsetse's larval microbiome and the integrity of the emerging adult PM gut immune barrier.
Tsetse flies serve as a host to many micro-organisms. Specifically, this fly houses beneficial endosymbiotic bacteria, and can also serve as a vector of pathogenic trypanosomes across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Although flies feed on parasite-infected reservoir hosts, only a small proportion (1–5%) of individuals that acquire an infectious meal become infected and subsequently transmit disease to a naïve host. Several physiological factors, including tsetse's age, nutritional status and innate immune mechanisms, contribute to trypanosome infection outcomes in the fly. We demonstrate that tsetse's endogenous microbiome also impacts the fly's resistance to parasites. Specifically, we show that tsetse must harbor it's symbiotic bacteria during larval development in order to present a trypanosome-refractory phenotype during adulthood. These microbes appear to indirectly regulate the fly's ability to immunologically detect and respond to the presence of trypanosomes. One of the mechanisms by which these microbes regulate parasite transmission involves modulating the formation of a physical barrier (called the ‘peritrophic matrix’) in their host's gut. Our findings are indicative of the complex functional association that exists between tsetse's symbiotic microbes and host immune mechanisms that regulate trypanosome infection outcomes.