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      Role of the major antigenic membrane protein in phytoplasma transmission by two insect vector species

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          Phytoplasmas are bacterial plant pathogens (class Mollicutes), transmitted by phloem feeding leafhoppers, planthoppers and psyllids in a persistent/propagative manner. Transmission of phytoplasmas is under the control of behavioral, environmental and geographical factors, but molecular interactions between membrane proteins of phytoplasma and vectors may also be involved. The aim of the work was to provide experimental evidence that in vivo interaction between phytoplasma antigenic membrane protein (Amp) and vector proteins has a role in the transmission process. In doing so, we also investigated the topology of the interaction at the gut epithelium and at the salivary glands, the two barriers encountered by the phytoplasma during vector colonization.


          Experiments were performed on the ‘ Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ chrysanthemum yellows strain (CYP), and the two leafhopper vectors Macrosteles quadripunctulatus Kirschbaum and Euscelidius variegatus Kirschbaum.

          To specifically address the interaction of CYP Amp at the gut epithelium barrier, insects were artificially fed with media containing either the recombinant phytoplasma protein Amp, or the antibody (A416) or both, and transmission, acquisition and inoculation efficiencies were measured.

          An abdominal microinjection protocol was employed to specifically address the interaction of CYP Amp at the salivary gland barrier. Phytoplasma suspension was added with Amp or A416 or both, injected into healthy E. variegatus adults and then infection and inoculation efficiencies were measured.

          An internalization assay was developed, consisting of dissected salivary glands from healthy E. variegatus exposed to phytoplasma suspension alone or together with A416 antibody. The organs were then either observed in confocal microscopy or subjected to DNA extraction and phytoplasma quantification by qPCR, to visualize and quantify possible differences among treatments in localization/presence/number of CYP cells.


          Artificial feeding and abdominal microinjection protocols were developed to address the two barriers separately. The in vivo interactions between Amp of ‘ Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ Chrysanthemum yellows strain (CYP) and vector proteins were studied by evaluating their effects on phytoplasma transmission by Euscelidius variegatus and Macrosteles quadripunctulatus leafhoppers. An internalization assay was developed, consisting of dissected salivary glands from healthy E. variegatus exposed to phytoplasma suspension alone or together with anti-Amp antibody. To visualize possible differences among treatments in localization/presence of CYP cells, the organs were observed in confocal microscopy. Pre-feeding of E. variegatus and M. quadripunctulatus on anti-Amp antibody resulted in a significant decrease of acquisition efficiencies in both species. Inoculation efficiency of microinjected E. variegatus with CYP suspension and anti-Amp antibody was significantly reduced compared to that of the control with phytoplasma suspension only. The possibility that this was due to reduced infection efficiency or antibody-mediated inhibition of phytoplasma multiplication was ruled out. These results provided the first indirect proof of the role of Amp in the transmission process.


          Protocols were developed to assess the in vivo role of the phytoplasma native major antigenic membrane protein in two phases of the vector transmission process: movement through the midgut epithelium and colonization of the salivary glands. These methods will be useful also to characterize other phytoplasma-vector combinations. Results indicated for the first time that native CYP Amp is involved in vivo in specific crossing of the gut epithelium and salivary gland colonization during early phases of vector infection.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12866-015-0522-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references 36

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          Insect vectors of phytoplasmas.

          Plant diseases caused by, or associated with, phytoplasmas occur in hundreds of commercial and native plants, causing minor to extensive damage. Insect vectors, primarily leafhoppers, planthoppers, and psyllids, have been identified for relatively few phytoplasma diseases, limiting the capacity of managers to make informed decisions to protect crops and endangered indigenous plants. In the past two decades our knowledge of insect vector-phytoplasma interactions has increased dramatically, allowing researchers to make more accurate predictions about the nature and epidemiology of phytoplasma diseases. These better-characterized systems also may provide clues to the identity of insect vectors of other phytoplasma-associated diseases. We review the literature addressing the ecology of insect vectors, phytoplasma-insect ecological and molecular interactions, vector movement and dispersal, and possible management strategies with an emphasis on research from the past 20 years.
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            Emerging and resurging vector-borne diseases.

             N G Gratz (1998)
            Over the last four decades, a number of arthropod-borne infections have been recognized for the first time. Some have become of considerable public health importance, such as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), and others are spreading geographically and their incidence is increasing. There has been an important recrudescence of several long-known vector-borne diseases. Malaria, leishmaniasis, dengue, and plague have resurged in numerous foci, in some cases where they were thought to be under effective control. In most instances, the appearance of new diseases and syndromes and the resurgence of old can be associated with ecological changes that have favored increased vector densities. Dam construction, irrigation and other development projects, urbanization, and deforestation have all resulted in changes in vector population densities that appear to have enabled the emergence of new diseases and the resurgence of old diseases. Greatly increased human travel has spread infectious agents, introducing them into areas in which they had been hitherto absent. It is essential to understand the factors that caused increased vector densities and hence the transmission of disease to prevent the emergence and resurgence of more diseases, as well as to serve as a basis for effective control.
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              Amplification of 16S rRNA genes from culturable and nonculturable Mollicutes


                Author and article information

                BMC Microbiol
                BMC Microbiol
                BMC Microbiology
                BioMed Central (London )
                30 September 2015
                30 September 2015
                : 15
                [ ]Istituto per la Protezione Sostenibile delle Piante, CNR, Torino, Italy
                [ ]DISAFA, Università degli Studi di Torino, Grugliasco, TO Italy
                [ ]Present address: University of Idaho, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Aberdeen, ID USA
                © Rashidi et al. 2015

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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