Colonization of the salivary glands of Naucoris cimicoides by Mycobacterium ulcerans requires host plasmatocytes and a macrolide toxin, mycolactone.
Mycobacterium ulcerans was first identified as the causative agent of Buruli ulcer; this cutaneous tissue-destructive process represents the third most important mycobacterial disease in humans after tuberculosis and leprosy. More recently other life traits were documented. M. ulcerans is mainly detected in humid tropical zones as part of a complex ecosystem comprising algae, aquatic insect predators of the genus Naucoris, and very likely their vegetarian preys. Coelomic plasmatocytes could be the first cells of Naucoris cimicoides to be involved in the infection process, acting as shuttle cells that deliver M. ulcerans to the salivary glands as suggested by both in vitro and in vivo approaches. Furthermore, a key element for the early and long-term establishment of M. ulcerans in Naucoridae is demonstrated by the fact that only mycolactone toxin-producing M. ulcerans isolates are able to invade the salivary glands, a site where they proliferate. Later, the raptorial legs of Naucoris are covered by M. ulcerans-containing material that displays features of biofilms.