Washington: Scientists have shown for the first time that infection with dengue virus turns on mosquito genes that makes them hungrier and better feeders, and therefore possibly more likely to spread the disease to humans.
Specifically, the researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that dengue virus infection of the mosquito’s salivary gland triggered a response that involved genes of the insect’s immune system, feeding behaviour and the mosquito’s ability to sense odours.
Dengue virus is primarily spread to people by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Over 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue fever is endemic. The World Health Organization estimates that there are between 50 million and 100 million dengue infections each year.
“Our study shows that the dengue virus infects mosquito organs, the salivary glands and antennae that are essential for finding and feeding on a human host. This infection induces odorant-binding protein genes, which enable the mosquito to sense odours,” George Dimopoulus, senior author of the study, said.
“The virus may, therefore, facilitate the mosquito’s host-seeking ability, and could—at least theoretically—increase transmission efficiency, although we don’t fully understand the relationships between feeding efficiency and virus transmission.
“In other words, a hungrier mosquito with a better ability to sense food is more likely to spread dengue virus,” he said.
For the study, the researchers performed a genome-wide microarray gene expression analysis of dengue-infected mosquitoes.
Infection regulated 147 genes with predicted functions in various processes including virus transmission, immunity, blood-feeding and host-seeking.
Further analysis of infected mosquitoes showed that silencing, or “switching off”, two odorant-binding protein genes resulted in an overall reduction in the mosquito``s blood-acquisition capacity from a single host by increasing the time it took the for mosquito to probe for a meal.
“We have, for the first time shown, that a human pathogen can modulate feeding-related genes and behaviour of its vector mosquito, and the impact of this on transmission of disease could be significant,” Dimopoulos added.
The study has been published in PLoS Pathogens.