Comparison of the humoral and cellular immune responses between body and head lice following bacterial challenge

Ju Hyeon Kim, Jee Sun Min, Jae Soon Kang, Deok Ho Kwon, Kyong Sup Yoon, Joseph Strycharz, Young Ho Koh, Barry Robert Pittendrigh, J. Marshall Clark, Si Hyeock Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The differences in the immune response between body lice, Pediculus humanus humanus, and head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, were investigated initially by measuring the proliferation rates of two model bacteria, a Gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus and a Gram-negative Escherichia coli, following challenge by injection. Body lice showed a significantly reduced immune response compared to head lice particularly to E. coli at the early stage of the immune challenge. Annotation of the body louse genome identified substantially fewer immune-related genes compared with other insects. Nevertheless, all required genetic components of the major immune pathways, except for the immune deficiency (Imd) pathway, are still retained in the body louse genome. Transcriptional profiling of representative genes involved in the humoral immune response, following bacterial challenge, revealed that both body and head lice, regardless of their developmental stages, exhibited an increased immune response to S. aureus but little to E. coli. Head lice, however, exhibited a significantly higher phagocytotic activity against E. coli than body lice, whereas the phagocytosis against S. aureus differed only slightly between body and head lice. These findings suggest that the greater immune response in head lice against E. coli is largely due to enhanced phagocytosis and not due to differences in the humoral immune response. The reduced phagocytotic activity in body lice could be responsible, in part, for their increased vector competence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-339
Number of pages8
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial challenge
  • Human lice
  • Immune response
  • Pediculus humanus capitis
  • Pediculus humanus humanus
  • Phagocytosis
  • Vector competence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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