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1.  A transgenic sensor strain for monitoring the RNAi pathway in the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti 
The RNA interference pathway functions as an antiviral defense in invertebrates. In order to generate a phenotypic marker which “senses” the status of the RNAi pathway in Aedes aegypti, transgenic strains were developed to express EGFP and DsRED marker genes in the eye, as well as double-stranded RNA homologous to a portion of the EGFP gene. Transgenic “sensor” mosquitoes exhibited robust eye-specific DsRED expression with little EGFP, indicating RNAi-based silencing. Cloning and high-throughput sequencing of small RNAs confirmed that the inverted-repeat transgene was successfully processed into short-interfering RNAs by the mosquito RNAi pathway. When the Ae. aegypti homologues of the genes DCR-2 or AGO-2 were knocked-down, a clear increase in EGFP fluorescence was observed in the mosquito eyes. Knockdown of DCR-2 was also associated with an increase in EGFP mRNA levels, as determined by Northern blot and real-time PCR. Knockdown of AGO-3, a gene involved in the germline-specific piRNA pathway, did not restore EGFP expression at either the mRNA or protein level. This transgenic sensor strain can now be used to identify other components of the mosquito RNAi pathway and has the potential to be used in the identification of arboviral suppressors of RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2518454  PMID: 18549956
Aedes aegypti; RNAi; transgenic mosquito; dicer; argonaute
2.  Comprehensive Genetic Dissection of the Hemocyte Immune Response in the Malaria Mosquito Anopheles gambiae 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(1):e1003145.
Reverse genetics in the mosquito Anopheles gambiae by RNAi mediated gene silencing has led in recent years to an advanced understanding of the mosquito immune response against infections with bacteria and malaria parasites. We developed RNAi screens in An. gambiae hemocyte-like cells using a library of double-stranded RNAs targeting 109 genes expressed highly or specifically in mosquito hemocytes to identify novel regulators of the hemocyte immune response. Assays included phagocytosis of bacterial bioparticles, expression of the antimicrobial peptide CEC1, and basal and induced expression of the mosquito complement factor LRIM1. A cell viability screen was also carried out to assess dsRNA cytotoxicity and to identify genes involved in cell growth and survival. Our results identify 22 novel immune regulators, including proteins putatively involved in phagosome assembly and maturation (Ca2+ channel, v-ATPase and cyclin-dependent protein kinase), pattern recognition (fibrinogen-domain lectins and Nimrod), immune modulation (peptidase and serine protease homolog), immune signaling (Eiger and LPS-induced factor), cell adhesion and communication (Laminin B1 and Ninjurin) and immune homeostasis (Lipophorin receptor). The development of robust functional cell-based assays paves the way for genome-wide functional screens to study the mosquito immune response to infections with human pathogens.
Author Summary
The mosquito immune system relies on innate humoral and cellular reactions to fight infections, including those by malaria parasites that must pass through mosquitoes before they can infect humans. Therefore, a detailed molecular understanding of these reactions could assist the design of new ways to control the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Here we use a technique to silence in mosquito cultured cells genes that are highly and/or specifically expressed in mosquito hemocytes, the equivalent of human white blood cells, as a means to investigate their function in reactions of the mosquito immune system. Our study identifies several novel regulators of immune reactions including phagocytosis, the engulfment and subsequent destruction of bacteria and other pathogens by hemocytes, the production of antimicrobial peptides, which directly kill or inhibit the proliferation of microbes, and the basal and induced production of an important complement regulator. Complement is a robust reaction of mosquitoes against malaria parasites and bacteria through phagocytosis, lysis or melanization (the enclosure of pathogens in a melanin capsule). We also reveal intriguing molecular connections between these reactions such as phagocytosis and regulation of complement. Our study provides novel insights into mosquito immune system and its reactions against infections.
PMCID: PMC3561300  PMID: 23382679
3.  Tobacco Rattle Virus Vector: A Rapid and Transient Means of Silencing Manduca sexta Genes by Plant Mediated RNA Interference 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31347.
RNAi can be achieved in insect herbivores by feeding them host plants stably transformed to express double stranded RNA (dsRNA) of selected midgut-expressed genes. However, the development of stably transformed plants is a slow and laborious process and here we developed a rapid, reliable and transient method. We used viral vectors to produce dsRNA in the host plant Nicotiana attenuata to transiently silence midgut genes of the plant's lepidopteran specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta. To compare the efficacy of longer, undiced dsRNA for insect gene silencing, we silenced N. attenuata's dicer genes (NaDCL1- 4) in all combinations in a plant stably transformed to express dsRNA targeting an insect gene.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Stable transgenic N. attenuata plants harboring a 312 bp fragment of MsCYP6B46 in an inverted repeat orientation (ir-CYP6B46) were generated to produce CYP6B46 dsRNA. After consuming these plants, transcripts of CYP6B46 were significantly reduced in M. sexta larval midguts. The same 312 bp cDNA was cloned in an antisense orientation into a TRV vector and Agro-infiltrated into N. attenuata plants. When larvae ingested these plants, similar reductions in CYP6B46 transcripts were observed without reducing transcripts of the most closely related MsCYP6B45. We used this transient method to rapidly silence the expression of two additional midgut-expressed MsCYPs. CYP6B46 transcripts were further reduced in midguts, when the larvae fed on ir-CYP6B46 plants transiently silenced for two combinations of NaDCLs (DCL1/3/4 and DCL2/3/4) and contained higher concentrations of longer, undiced CYP6B46 dsRNA.
Both stable and transient expression of CYP6B46 dsRNA in host plants provides a specific and robust means of silencing this gene in M. sexta larvae, but the transient system is better suited for high throughput analyses. Transiently silencing NaDCLs in ir-CYP6B46 plants increased the silencing of MsCYP6B46, suggested that insect's RNAi machinery is more efficient with longer lengths of ingested dsRNA.
PMCID: PMC3270032  PMID: 22312445
4.  Cooler Temperatures Destabilize RNA Interference and Increase Susceptibility of Disease Vector Mosquitoes to Viral Infection 
The impact of global climate change on the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases is the subject of extensive debate. The transmission of mosquito-borne viral diseases is particularly complex, with climatic variables directly affecting many parameters associated with the prevalence of disease vectors. While evidence shows that warmer temperatures often decrease the extrinsic incubation period of an arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus), exposure to cooler temperatures often predisposes disease vector mosquitoes to higher infection rates. RNA interference (RNAi) pathways are essential to antiviral immunity in the mosquito; however, few experiments have explored the effects of temperature on the RNAi machinery.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We utilized transgenic “sensor” strains of Aedes aegypti to examine the role of temperature on RNA silencing. These “sensor” strains express EGFP only when RNAi is inhibited; for example, after knockdown of the effector proteins Dicer-2 (DCR-2) or Argonaute-2 (AGO-2). We observed an increase in EGFP expression in transgenic sensor mosquitoes reared at 18°C as compared with 28°C. Changes in expression were dependent on the presence of an inverted repeat with homology to a portion of the EGFP sequence, as transgenic strains lacking this sequence, the double stranded RNA (dsRNA) trigger for RNAi, showed no change in EGFP expression when reared at 18°C. Sequencing small RNAs in sensor mosquitoes reared at low temperature revealed normal processing of dsRNA substrates, suggesting the observed deficiency in RNAi occurs downstream of DCR-2. Rearing at cooler temperatures also predisposed mosquitoes to higher levels of infection with both chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.
This data suggest that microclimates, such as those present in mosquito breeding sites, as well as more general climactic variables may influence the dynamics of mosquito-borne viral diseases by affecting the antiviral immunity of disease vectors.
Author Summary
Although a link between the increased susceptibility of mosquitoes for arthropod-borne viruses and exposure to lower rearing temperatures has been known for many years, the molecular basis of this has remained unknown. We investigated this phenomenon using an engineered strain of mosquito where the expression of a reporter was dependant on the status of the RNA interference pathway (RNAi). Our studies indicate a correlation between the virus-susceptibility phenotype and temperature-dependent deficiencies in antiviral immunity. Specifically, we demonstrate that RNAi, a critical antiviral immune pathway in mosquito vectors of human disease, is impaired in insects reared at cooler temperatures. This suggests for the first time a molecular explanation for previously described observations, findings that may lead to a better understanding of how global climate change will affect the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses, and new criteria for evaluating genetic control strategies based on RNAi. Our studies also suggest a novel mechanism for arbovirus adaptation to otherwise incompetent vector species.
PMCID: PMC3667787  PMID: 23738025
5.  Bacterial diversity analysis of larvae and adult midgut microflora using culture-dependent and culture-independent methods in lab-reared and field-collected Anopheles stephensi-an Asian malarial vector 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:96.
Mosquitoes are intermediate hosts for numerous disease causing organisms. Vector control is one of the most investigated strategy for the suppression of mosquito-borne diseases. Anopheles stephensi is one of the vectors of malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax. The parasite undergoes major developmental and maturation steps within the mosquito midgut and little is known about Anopheles-associated midgut microbiota. Identification and characterization of the mosquito midgut flora is likely to contribute towards better understanding of mosquito biology including longevity, reproduction and mosquito-pathogen interactions that are important to evolve strategies for vector control mechanisms.
Lab-reared and field-collected A. stephensi male, female and larvae were screened by "culture-dependent and culture-independent" methods. Five 16S rRNA gene library were constructed form lab and field-caught A. stephensi mosquitoes and a total of 115 culturable isolates from both samples were analyzed further. Altogether, 68 genera were identified from midgut of adult and larval A. stephensi, 53 from field-caught and 15 from lab-reared mosquitoes. A total of 171 and 44 distinct phylotypes having 85 to 99% similarity with the closest database matches were detected among field and lab-reared A. stephensi midgut, respectively. These OTUs had a Shannon diversity index value of 1.74–2.14 for lab-reared and in the range of 2.75–3.49 for field-caught A. stephensi mosquitoes. The high species evenness values of 0.93 to 0.99 in field-collected adult and larvae midgut flora indicated the vastness of microbial diversity retrieved by these approaches. The dominant bacteria in field-caught adult male A. stephensi were uncultured Paenibacillaceae while in female and in larvae it was Serratia marcescens, on the other hand in lab-reared mosquitoes, Serratia marcescens and Cryseobacterium meninqosepticum bacteria were found to be abundant.
More than fifty percent of the phylotypes were related to uncultured class of bacteria. Interestingly, several of the bacteria identified are related to the known symbionts in other insects. Few of the isolates identified in our study are found to be novel species within the gammaproteobacteria which could not be phylogenetically placed within known classes. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to study the midgut microbiota of A. stephensi from lab-reared and field-collected adult and larvae using "culture-dependent and independent methods".
PMCID: PMC2698833  PMID: 19450290
6.  Identification of the Midgut Microbiota of An. stephensi and An. maculipennis for Their Application as a Paratransgenic Tool against Malaria 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28484.
The midgut microbiota associated with Anopheles stephensi and Anopheles maculipennis (Diptera: Culicidae) was investigated for development of a paratransgenesis-based approach to control malaria transmission in Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). Here, we present the results of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and biochemical-based approaches to identify the female adult and larvae mosquitoe microbiota of these two major malaria vectors, originated from South Eastern and North of Iran. Plating the mosquito midgut contents from lab-reared and field-collected Anopheles spp. was used for microbiota isolation. The Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial colonies were identified by Gram staining and specific mediums. Selected colonies were identified by differential biochemical tests and 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis. A number of 10 An. stephensi and 32 An. maculipennis adult mosquitoes and 15 An. stephensi and 7 An. maculipennis larvae were analyzed and 13 sequences of 16S rRNA gene bacterial species were retrieved, that were categorized in 3 classes and 8 families. The majority of the identified bacteria were belonged to the γ-proteobacteria class, including Pseudomonas sp. and Aeromonas sp. and the others were some closely related to those found in other vector mosquitoes, including Pantoea, Acinetobacter, Brevundimonas, Bacillus, Sphingomonas, Lysinibacillus and Rahnella. The 16S rRNA sequences in the current study aligned with the reference strains available in GenBank were used for construction of the phylogenetic tree that revealed the relatedness among the bacteria identified. The presented data strongly encourage further investigations, to verify the potential role of the detected bacteria for the malaria control in Iran and neighboring countries.
PMCID: PMC3232223  PMID: 22163022
7.  Cloning, characterization, and expression of microRNAs from the Asian malaria mosquito, Anopheles stephensi 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:244.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are non-coding RNAs that are now recognized as a major class of gene-regulating molecules widely distributed in metozoans and plants. miRNAs have been found to play important roles in apoptosis, cancer, development, differentiation, inflammation, longevity, and viral infection. There are a few reports describing miRNAs in the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, on the basis of similarity to known miRNAs from other species. An. stephensi is the most important malaria vector in Asia and it is becoming a model Anopheline species for physiological and genetics studies.
We report the cloning and characterization of 27 distinct miRNAs from 17-day old An. stephensi female mosquitoes. Seventeen of the 27 miRNAs matched previously predicted An. gambiae miRNAs, offering the first experimental verification of miRNAs from mosquito species. Ten of the 27 are miRNAs previously unknown to mosquitoes, four of which did not match any known miRNAs in any organism. Twenty-five of the 27 Anopheles miRNAs had conserved sequences in the genome of a divergent relative, the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti. Two clusters of miRNAs were found within introns of orthologous genes in An. gambiae, Ae. aegypti, and Drosophila melanogaster. Mature miRNAs were detected in An. stephensi for all of the nine selected miRNAs, including the four novel miRNAs (miR-x1- miR-x4), either by northern blot or by Ribonuclease Protection Assay. Expression profile analysis of eight of these miRNAs revealed distinct expression patterns from early embryo to adult stages in An. stephensi. In both An. stephensi and Ae. aegypti, the expression of miR-x2 was restricted to adult females and predominantly in the ovaries. A significant reduction of miR-x2 level was observed 72 hrs after a blood meal. Thus miR-x2 is likely involved in female reproduction and its function may be conserved among divergent mosquitoes. A mosquito homolog of miR-14, a regulator of longevity and apoptosis in D. melanogaster, represented 25% of all sequenced miRNA clones from 17-day old An. stephensi female mosquitoes. An. stephensi miR-14 displayed a relatively strong signal from late embryonic to adult stages. miR-14 expression is consistent during the adult lifespan regardless of age, sex, and blood feeding status. Thus miR-14 is likely important across all mosquito life stages.
This study provides experimental evidence for 23 conserved and four new microRNAs in An. stephensi mosquitoes. Comparisons between miRNA gene clusters in Anopheles and Aedes mosquitoes, and in D. melanogaster suggest the loss or significant change of two miRNA genes in Ae. aegypti. Expression profile analysis of eight miRNAs, including the four new miRNAs, revealed distinct patterns from early embryo to adult stages in An. stephensi. Further analysis showed that miR-x2 is likely involved in female reproduction and its function may be conserved among divergent mosquitoes. Consistent expression of miR-14 suggests that it is likely important across all mosquito life stages from embryos to aged adults. Understanding the functions of mosquito miRNAs will undoubtedly contribute to a better understanding of mosquito biology including longevity, reproduction, and mosquito-pathogen interactions, which are important to disease transmission.
PMCID: PMC2430712  PMID: 18500992
8.  Gene silencing by RNAi in mouse Sertoli cells 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a valuable tool in the investigation of gene function. The purpose of this study was to examine the availability, target cell types and efficiency of RNAi in the mouse seminiferous epithelium.
The experimental model was based on transgenic mice expressing EGFP (enhanced green fluorescent protein). RNAi was induced by in vivo transfection of plasmid vectors encoding for short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) targeting EGFP. shRNAs were transfected in vivo by microinjection into the seminiferous tubules via the rete testis followed by square wave electroporation. As a transfection reporter, expression of red fluorescent protein (HcRed 1) was used. Cell types, the efficiency of both transfections and RNAi were all evaluated.
Sertoli cells were the main transfected cells. A reduction of about 40% in the level of EGFP protein was detected in cells successfully transfected both in vivo and in vitro. However, the efficiency of in vivo transfection was low.
In adult seminiferous epithelial cells, in vivo post-transcriptional gene silencing mediated by RNAi via shRNA is efficient in Sertoli cells. Similar levels of RNAi were detected both in vivo and in vitro. This also indicates that Sertoli cells have the necessary silencing machinery to repress the expression of endogenous genes via RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2483279  PMID: 18620581
9.  Single small-interfering RNA expression vector for silencing multiple transforming growth factor-β pathway components 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(15):e131.
Although RNA interference (RNAi) is a popular technique, no method for simultaneous silencing of multiple targets by small-hairpin RNA (shRNA)-expressing RNAi vectors has yet been established. Although gene silencing can be achieved by synthetic small-interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes, the approach is transient and largely dependent on the transfection efficiency of the host cell. We offer a solution: a simple, restriction enzyme-generated stable RNAi technique that can efficiently silence multiple targets with a single RNAi vector and a single selection marker. In this study, we succeeded in simultaneous stable knockdown of transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) pathway-related Smads—Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4—at the cellular level. We observed distinct phenotypic changes in TGF-β-dependent cellular functions such as invasion, wound healing and apoptosis. This method is best suited for an analysis of complex signal transduction pathways in which silencing of a single gene cannot account for the whole process.
PMCID: PMC1188087  PMID: 16113239
10.  Transgene-mediated suppression of the RNA interference pathway in Aedes aegypti interferes with gene silencing and enhances Sindbis virus and dengue virus type 2 replication 
Insect molecular biology  2013;22(1):104-114.
RNA interference (RNAi) is the major innate antiviral pathway in Aedes aegypti that responds to replicating arboviruses such as DENV and SINV. The mosquito’s RNAi machinery is capable of completely eliminating DENV2 from Ae. aegypti. On the other hand, transient silencing of key genes of the RNAi pathway increases replication of SINV and DENV2, allowing the viruses to temporally overcome dose-dependent midgut infection and –escape barriers at higher rates. Here we expressed FHV-B2 from the poly-ubiquitin (PUb) promoter in Ae. aegypti using the ΦC31 site-directed recombination system to investigate the impact of transgene-mediated RNAi pathway suppression on infections with SINV-TR339eGFP and DENV2-QR94, the latter of which has been shown to be confronted with a strong midgut escape barrier (MEB) in Ae. aegypti. FHV-B2 was constitutively expressed in midguts of sugar- and bloodfed mosquitoes of transgenic line PUbB2 P61. B2 over-expression suppressed RNA silencing of carboxypeptidase A-1 (AeCPA-1) in midgut tissue of PUbB2 P61 mosquitoes. Following oral challenge with SINV-TR339eGFP or DENV2-QR94, mean titers in midguts of PUbB2 P61 females were significantly higher at 7 days post-bloodmeal (pbm) than in those of non-transgenic control mosquitoes. At 14 days pbm, infection rates of carcasses were significantly increased in PubB2 P61 mosquitoes infected with SINV-TR339eGFP. Following infection with DENV2-QR94, midgut infection rates were significantly increased in the B2-expressing mosquitoes at 14 days pbm. However, B2 expression in PUbB2 P61 did not increase the DENV2-QR94 dissemination rate, indicating that the infection phenotype was not primarily controlled by RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3558842  PMID: 23331493
Aedes aegypti; mosquito; transgenic; ΦC31 recombination; dengue virus; Sindbis virus; FHV-B2; RNA interference; RNAi suppression
11.  Mosquito immune responses and compatibility between Plasmodium parasites and anopheline mosquitoes 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:154.
Functional screens based on dsRNA-mediated gene silencing identified several Anopheles gambiae genes that limit Plasmodium berghei infection. However, some of the genes identified in these screens have no effect on the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum; raising the question of whether different mosquito effector genes mediate anti-parasitic responses to different Plasmodium species.
Four new An. gambiae (G3) genes were identified that, when silenced, have a different effect on P. berghei (Anka 2.34) and P. falciparum (3D7) infections. Orthologs of these genes, as well as LRIM1 and CTL4, were also silenced in An. stephensi (Nijmegen Sda500) females infected with P. yoelii (17XNL). For five of the six genes tested, silencing had the same effect on infection in the P. falciparum-An. gambiae and P. yoelii-An. stephensi parasite-vector combinations. Although silencing LRIM1 or CTL4 has no effect in An. stephensi females infected with P. yoelii, when An. gambiae is infected with the same parasite, silencing these genes has a dramatic effect. In An. gambiae (G3), TEP1, LRIM1 or LRIM2 silencing reverts lysis and melanization of P. yoelii, while CTL4 silencing enhances melanization.
There is a broad spectrum of compatibility, the extent to which the mosquito immune system limits infection, between different Plasmodium strains and particular mosquito strains that is mediated by TEP1/LRIM1 activation. The interactions between highly compatible animal models of malaria, such as P. yoelii (17XNL)-An. stephensi (Nijmegen Sda500), is more similar to that of P. falciparum (3D7)-An. gambiae (G3).
PMCID: PMC2782267  PMID: 19643026
12.  Killer Bee Molecules: Antimicrobial Peptides as Effector Molecules to Target Sporogonic Stages of Plasmodium 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(11):e1003790.
A new generation of strategies is evolving that aim to block malaria transmission by employing genetically modified vectors or mosquito pathogens or symbionts that express anti-parasite molecules. Whilst transgenic technologies have advanced rapidly, there is still a paucity of effector molecules with potent anti-malaria activity whose expression does not cause detrimental effects on mosquito fitness. Our objective was to examine a wide range of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) for their toxic effects on Plasmodium and anopheline mosquitoes. Specifically targeting early sporogonic stages, we initially screened AMPs for toxicity against a mosquito cell line and P. berghei ookinetes. Promising candidate AMPs were fed to mosquitoes to monitor adverse fitness effects, and their efficacy in blocking rodent malaria infection in Anopheles stephensi was assessed. This was followed by tests to determine their activity against P. falciparum in An. gambiae, initially using laboratory cultures to infect mosquitoes, then culminating in preliminary assays in the field using gametocytes and mosquitoes collected from the same area in Mali, West Africa. From a range of 33 molecules, six AMPs able to block Plasmodium development were identified: Anoplin, Duramycin, Mastoparan X, Melittin, TP10 and Vida3. With the exception of Anoplin and Mastoparan X, these AMPs were also toxic to an An. gambiae cell line at a concentration of 25 µM. However, when tested in mosquito blood feeds, they did not reduce mosquito longevity or egg production at concentrations of 50 µM. Peptides effective against cultured ookinetes were less effective when tested in vivo and differences in efficacy against P. berghei and P. falciparum were seen. From the range of molecules tested, the majority of effective AMPs were derived from bee/wasp venoms.
Author Summary
Breaking the complex life cycle of malaria by blocking its development in the mosquito is one area of research being pursued for malaria control. Currently, the mosquito itself, or microbes that live within it, are being genetically modified to provide toxic or lethal outcomes to the parasite. However, this usually comes with a cost to the lifespan and reproductive capabilities of the mosquito, resulting in a strong disadvantage if these modified organisms were to be released in the wild. This work aimed to identify a group of molecules suitable for inclusion in genetic modification strategies, which are toxic to malaria parasites, but have no costly side-effects to the mosquito. Within this group of molecules, toxins from bee and wasp venoms were prominent in their effects on mouse and human parasites. These particular molecules may prove effective in novel malaria control strategies and such venoms may also be a promising source of additional anti-malaria toxins.
PMCID: PMC3836994  PMID: 24278025
13.  Phenotypic Dissection of a Plasmodium-Refractory Strain of Malaria Vector Anopheles stephensi: The Reduced Susceptibility to P. berghei and P. yoelii 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63753.
Anopheline mosquitoes are the major vectors of human malaria. Parasite-mosquito interactions are a critical aspect of disease transmission and a potential target for malaria control. Current investigations into parasite-mosquito interactions frequently assume that genetically resistant and susceptible mosquitoes exist in nature. Therefore, comparisons between the Plasmodium susceptibility profiles of different mosquito species may contribute to a better understanding of vectorial capacity. Anopheles stephensi is an important malaria vector in central and southern Asia and is widely used as a laboratory model of parasite transmission due to its high susceptibility to Plasmodium infection. In the present study, we identified a rodent malaria-refractory strain of A. stephensi mysorensis (Ehime) by comparative study of infection susceptibility. A very low number of oocysts develop in Ehime mosquitoes infected with P. berghei and P. yoelii, as determined by evaluation of developed oocysts on the basal lamina. A stage-specific study revealed that this reduced susceptibility was due to the impaired formation of ookinetes of both Plasmodium species in the midgut lumen and incomplete crossing of the midgut epithelium. There were no apparent abnormalities in the exflagellation of male parasites in the ingested blood or the maturation of oocysts after the rounding up of the ookinetes. Overall, these results suggest that invasive-stage parasites are eliminated in both the midgut lumen and epithelium in Ehime mosquitoes by strain-specific factors that remain unknown. The refractory strain newly identified in this report would be an excellent study system for investigations into novel parasite-mosquito interactions in the mosquito midgut.
PMCID: PMC3662785  PMID: 23717475
14.  A computational study of off-target effects of RNA interference 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(6):1834-1847.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an intracellular mechanism for post-transcriptional gene silencing that is frequently used to study gene function. RNAi is initiated by short interfering RNA (siRNA) of ∼21 nt in length, either generated from the double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) by using the enzyme Dicer or introduced experimentally. Following association with an RNAi silencing complex, siRNA targets mRNA transcripts that have sequence identity for destruction. A phenotype resulting from this knockdown of expression may inform about the function of the targeted gene. However, ‘off-target effects’ compromise the specificity of RNAi if sequence identity between siRNA and random mRNA transcripts causes RNAi to knockdown expression of non-targeted genes. The complete off-target effects must be investigated systematically on each gene in a genome by adjusting a group of parameters, which is too expensive to conduct experimentally and motivates a study in silico. This computational study examined the potential for off-target effects of RNAi, employing the genome and transcriptome sequence data of Homo sapiens, Caenorhabditis elegans and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. The chance for RNAi off-target effects proved considerable, ranging from 5 to 80% for each of the organisms, when using as parameter the exact identity between any possible siRNA sequences (arbitrary length ranging from 17 to 28 nt) derived from a dsRNA (range 100–400 nt) representing the coding sequences of target genes and all other siRNAs within the genome. Remarkably, high-sequence specificity and low probability for off-target reactivity were optimally balanced for siRNA of 21 nt, the length observed mostly in vivo. The chance for off-target RNAi increased (although not always significantly) with greater length of the initial dsRNA sequence, inclusion into the analysis of available untranslated region sequences and allowing for mismatches between siRNA and target sequences. siRNA sequences from within 100 nt of the 5′ termini of coding sequences had low chances for off-target reactivity. This may be owing to coding constraints for signal peptide-encoding regions of genes relative to regions that encode for mature proteins. Off-target distribution varied along the chromosomes of C.elegans, apparently owing to the use of more unique sequences in gene-dense regions. Finally, biological and thermodynamical descriptors of effective siRNA reduced the number of potential siRNAs compared with those identified by sequence identity alone, but off-target RNAi remained likely, with an off-target error rate of ∼10%. These results also suggest a direction for future in vivo studies that could both help in calibrating true off-target rates in living organisms and also in contributing evidence toward the debate of whether siRNA efficacy is correlated with, or independent of, the target molecule. In summary, off-target effects present a real but not prohibitive concern that should be considered for RNAi experiments.
PMCID: PMC1072799  PMID: 15800213
15.  Molecular genetics and comparative genomics reveal RNAi is not functional in malaria parasites 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(11):3788-3798.
Techniques for targeted genetic disruption in Plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria, are currently intractable for those genes that are essential for blood stage development. The ability to use RNA interference (RNAi) to silence gene expression would provide a powerful means to gain valuable insight into the pathogenic blood stages but its functionality in Plasmodium remains controversial. Here we have used various RNA-based gene silencing approaches to test the utility of RNAi in malaria parasites and have undertaken an extensive comparative genomics search using profile hidden Markov models to clarify whether RNAi machinery exists in malaria. These investigative approaches revealed that Plasmodium lacks the enzymology required for RNAi-based ablation of gene expression and indeed no experimental evidence for RNAi was observed. In its absence, the most likely explanations for previously reported RNAi-mediated knockdown are either the general toxicity of introduced RNA (with global down-regulation of gene expression) or a specific antisense effect mechanistically distinct from RNAi, which will need systematic analysis if it is to be of use as a molecular genetic tool for malaria parasites.
PMCID: PMC2699523  PMID: 19380379
16.  Caudal is a negative regulator of the Anopheles IMD Pathway that controls resistance to P. falciparum infection 
Malaria parasite transmission depends upon the successful development of Plasmodium in its Anopheles mosquito vector. The mosquito’s innate immune system constitutes a major bottleneck for parasite population growth. We show here that in Anopheles gambiae, the midgut-specific transcription factor Caudal acts as a negative regulator in the Imd pathway-mediated immune response against the human malaria parasite P. falciparum. Caudal also modulates the mosquito midgut bacterial flora. RNAi-mediated silencing of Caudal enhanced the mosquito’s resistance to bacterial infections and increased the transcriptional abundance of key immune effector genes. Interestingly, Caudal’s silencing resulted in an increased lifespan of the mosquito, while it impaired reproductive fitness with respect to egg laying and hatching.
PMCID: PMC3892953  PMID: 23178401
Anopheles; mosquito; Plasmodium; innate immunity; Caudal; Imd pathway
17.  The vasa regulatory region mediates germline expression and maternal transmission of proteins in the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae: a versatile tool for genetic control strategies 
BMC Molecular Biology  2009;10:65.
Germline specific promoters are an essential component of potential vector control strategies which function by genetic drive, however suitable promoters are not currently available for the main human malaria vector Anopheles gambiae.
We have identified the Anopheles gambiae vasa-like gene and found its expression to be specifically localized to both the male and female gonads in adult mosquitoes. We have functionally characterised using transgenic reporter lines the regulatory regions required for driving transgene expression in a pattern mirroring that of the endogenous vasa locus. Two reporter constructs indicate the existence of distinct vasa regulatory elements within the 5' untranslated regions responsible not only for the spatial and temporal but also for the sex specific germline expression. vasa driven eGFP expression in the ovary of heterozygous mosquitoes resulted in the progressive accumulation of maternal protein and transcript in developing oocytes that were then detectable in all embryos and neonatal larvae.
We have characterized the vasa regulatory regions that are not only suited to drive transgenes in the early germline of both sexes but could also be utilized to manipulate the zygotic genome of developing embryos via maternal deposition of active molecules. We have used computational models to show that a homing endonuclease-based gene drive system can function in the presence of maternal deposition and describe a novel non-invasive control strategy based on early vasa driven homing endonuclease expression.
PMCID: PMC2713240  PMID: 19573226
18.  RNA Interference Is Responsible for Reduction of Transgene Expression after Sleeping Beauty Transposase Mediated Somatic Integration 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e35389.
Integrating non-viral vectors based on transposable elements are widely used for genetically engineering mammalian cells in functional genomics and therapeutic gene transfer. For the Sleeping Beauty (SB) transposase system it was demonstrated that convergent transcription driven by the SB transposase inverted repeats (IRs) in eukaryotic cells occurs after somatic integration. This could lead to formation of double-stranded RNAs potentially presenting targets for the RNA interference (RNAi) machinery and subsequently resulting into silencing of the transgene. Therefore, we aimed at investigating transgene expression upon transposition under RNA interference knockdown conditions.
Principal Findings
To establish RNAi knockdown cell lines we took advantage of the P19 protein, which is derived from the tomato bushy stunt virus. P19 binds and inhibits 21 nucleotides long, small-interfering RNAs and was shown to sufficiently suppress RNAi. We found that transgene expression upon SB mediated transposition was enhanced, resulting into a 3.2-fold increased amount of colony forming units (CFU) after transposition. In contrast, if the transgene cassette is insulated from the influence of chromosomal position effects by the chicken-derived cHS4 insulating sequences or when applying the Forg Prince transposon system, that displays only negligible transcriptional activity, similar numbers of CFUs were obtained.
In summary, we provide evidence for the first time that after somatic integration transposon derived transgene expression is regulated by the endogenous RNAi machinery. In the future this finding will help to further improve the molecular design of the SB transposase vector system.
PMCID: PMC3343047  PMID: 22570690
19.  Molecular Characterization of the Carboxypeptidase B1 of Anopheles stephensi and Its Evaluation as a Target for Transmission-Blocking Vaccines 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(6):2206-2216.
Malaria is one of the most important infectious diseases in the world, and it has many economic and social impacts on populations, especially in poor countries. Transmission-blocking vaccines (TBVs) are valuable tools for malaria eradication. A study on Anopheles gambiae revealed that polyclonal antibodies to carboxypeptidase B1 of A. gambiae can block sexual parasite development in the mosquito midgut. Hence, it was introduced as a TBV target in regions where A. gambiae is the main malaria vector. However, in Iran and neighboring countries as far as China, the main malaria vector is Anopheles stephensi. Also, the genome of this organism has not been sequenced yet. Therefore, in this study, carboxypeptidase B1 of A. stephensi was characterized by genomic and proteomic approaches. Furthermore, its expression pattern after ingestion of Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes and the effect of anti-CPBAs1 antibodies on sexual parasite development were evaluated. Our results revealed that the cpbAs1 expression level was increased after ingestion of the mature gametocytes of P. falciparum and that anti-CPBAs1 directed antibodies could significantly reduce the mosquito infection rate in the test group compared with the control group. Therefore, according to our findings and with respect to the high similarity of carboxypeptidase enzymes between the two main malaria vectors in Africa (A. gambiae) and Asia (A. stephensi) and the presence of other sympatric vectors, CPBAs1 could be introduced as a TBV candidate in regions where A. stephensi is the main malaria vector, and this will broaden the scope for the potential wider application of CPBAs1 antigen homologs/orthologs.
PMCID: PMC3676044  PMID: 23569111
20.  Gal4-based Enhancer-Trapping in the Malaria Mosquito Anopheles stephensi 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2012;2(11):1305-1315.
Transposon-based forward and reverse genetic technologies will contribute greatly to ongoing efforts to study mosquito functional genomics. A piggyBac transposon-based enhancer-trap system was developed that functions efficiently in the human malaria vector, Anopheles stephensi. The system consists of six transgenic lines of Anopheles stephensi, each with a single piggyBac-Gal4 element in a unique genomic location; six lines with a single piggyBac-UAStdTomato element; and two lines, each with a single Minos element containing the piggyBac-transposase gene under the regulatory control of the hsp70 promoter from Drosophila melanogaster. Enhancer detection depended upon the efficient remobilization of piggyBac-Gal4 transposons, which contain the yeast transcription factor gene Gal4 under the regulatory control of a basal promoter. Gal4 expression was detected through the expression of the fluorescent protein gene tdTomato under the regulatory control of a promoter with Gal4-binding UAS elements. From five genetic screens for larval- and adult-specific enhancers, 314 progeny were recovered from 24,250 total progeny (1.3%) with unique patterns of tdTomato expression arising from the influence of an enhancer. The frequency of piggyBac remobilization and enhancer detection was 2.5- to 3-fold higher in female germ lines compared with male germ lines. A small collection of enhancer-trap lines are described in which Gal4 expression occurred in adult female salivary glands, midgut, and fat body, either singly or in combination. These three tissues play critical roles during the infection of Anopheles stephensi by malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites. This system and the lines generated using it will be valuable resources to ongoing mosquito functional genomics efforts.
PMCID: PMC3484661  PMID: 23173082
malaria; Plasmodium; Aedes; dengue; Drosophila
21.  Silencing an Anopheles gambiae Catalase and Sulfhydryl Oxidase Increases Mosquito Mortality After a Blood Meal 
Catalase is a potent antioxidant, likely involved in post-blood meal homeostasis in mosquitoes. This enzyme breaks down H2O2, preventing the formation of the hydroxyl radical (HO•). Quiescins are newly classified sulfhydryl oxidases that bear a thioredoxin motif at the N-terminal and an ERV1-like portion at the C-terminal. These proteins have a major role in generating disulfides in intra- or extracellular environments, and thus participate in redox reactions. In the search for molecules to serve as targets for novel anti-mosquito strategies, we have silenced a catalase and a putative quiescin/sulfhydryl oxidase (QSOX), from the African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae, through RNA interference (RNAi) experiments. We observed that the survival of catalase- and QSOX-silenced insects was reduced over controls following blood digestion, most likely due to the compromised ability of mosquitoes to scavenge and/or prevent damage caused by blood meal-derived oxidative stress. The higher mortality effect was more accentuated in catalase-silenced mosquitoes, where catalase activity was reduced to low levels. Lipid peroxidation was higher in QSOX-silenced mosquitoes suggesting the involvement of this protein in redox homeostasis following a blood meal. This study points to the potential of molecules involved in antioxidant response and redox metabolism to serve as targets of novel anti-mosquito strategies and offers a screening methodology for finding targetable mosquito molecules.
PMCID: PMC2673501  PMID: 18454489
malaria; mosquito; RNAi; antioxidant; redox metabolism; survival
22.  A New Role for an Old Antimicrobial: Lysozyme c-1 Can Function to Protect Malaria Parasites in Anopheles Mosquitoes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19649.
Plasmodium requires an obligatory life stage in its mosquito host. The parasites encounter a number of insults while journeying through this host and have developed mechanisms to avoid host defenses. Lysozymes are a family of important antimicrobial immune effectors produced by mosquitoes in response to microbial challenge.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A mosquito lysozyme was identified as a protective agonist for Plasmodium. Immunohistochemical analyses demonstrated that Anopheles gambiae lysozyme c-1 binds to oocysts of Plasmodium berghei and Plasmodium falciparum at 2 and 5 days after infection. Similar results were observed with Anopheles stephensi and P. falciparum, suggesting wide occurrence of this phenomenon across parasite and vector species. Lysozyme c-1 did not bind to cultured ookinetes nor did recombinant lysozyme c-1 affect ookinete viability. dsRNA-mediated silencing of LYSC-1 in Anopheles gambiae significantly reduced the intensity and the prevalence of Plasmodium berghei infection. We conclude that this host antibacterial protein directly interacts with and facilitates development of Plasmodium oocysts within the mosquito.
This work identifies mosquito lysozyme c-1 as a positive mediator of Plasmodium development as its reduction reduces parasite load in the mosquito host. These findings improve our understanding of parasite development and provide a novel target to interrupt parasite transmission to human hosts.
PMCID: PMC3089642  PMID: 21573077
23.  Molecular Characterization of Larval Peripheral Thermosensory Responses of the Malaria Vector Mosquito Anopheles gambiae 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72595.
Thermosensation provides vital inputs for the malaria vector mosquito, Anopheles gambiae which utilizes heat-sensitivity within a broad spectrum of behaviors, most notably, the localization of human hosts for blood feeding. In this study, we examine thermosensory behaviors in larval-stage An. gambiae, which as a result of their obligate aquatic habitats and importance for vectorial capacity, represents an opportunistic target for vector control as part of the global campaign to eliminate malaria. As is the case for adults, immature mosquitoes respond differentially to a diverse array of external heat stimuli. In addition, larvae exhibit a striking phenotypic plasticity in thermal-driven behaviors that are established by temperature at which embryonic development occurs. Within this spectrum, RNAi-directed gene-silencing studies provide evidence for the essential role of the Transient Receptor Potential sub-family A1 (TRPA1) channel in mediating larval thermal-induced locomotion and thermal preference within a discrete upper range of ambient temperatures.
PMCID: PMC3737131  PMID: 23940815
24.  RNA Interference of Four Genes in Adult Bactrocera dorsalis by Feeding Their dsRNAs 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17788.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful method to inhibit gene expression in a sequence specific manner. Recently silencing the target gene through feeding has been successfully carried out in many insect species.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Escherichia coli strain HT115 was genetically engineered to express dsRNA targeting genes that encode ribosomal protein Rpl19, V type ATPase D subunit, the fatty acid elongase Noa and a small GTPase Rab11. qRT-PCR showed that mRNA level of four target genes was reduced compared to ds-egfp control by feeding either engineered bacteria or dsRNAs. The maximum down-regulation of each gene varied from 35% to 100%. Tissue specific examination indicated that RNAi could be observed not only in midgut but also in other tissues like the ovary, nervous system and fat body. Silencing of rab11 through ingestion of dsRNA killed 20% of adult flies. Egg production was affected through feeding ds-noa and ds-rab11 compared to ds-egfp group. Adult flies were continuously fed with dsRNA and bacteria expressing dsRNA for 14 days and up-regulations of target genes were observed during this process. The transcripts of noa showed up-regulation compared to ds-egfp control group in four tissues on day 7 after continuous feeding either dsRNA or engineered bacteria. The maximum over-expression is 21 times compared to ds-egfp control group. Up-regulation of rab11 mRNA level could be observed in testes on day 7 after continuous bacteria treatment and in midgut on day 2 after ds-rab11 treatment. This phenomenon could also be observed in rpl19 groups.
Our results suggested that it is feasible to silence genes by feeding dsRNA and bacteria expressing dsRNA in Bactrocera dorsalis. Additionally the over-expression of the target gene after continuously feeding dsRNA or bacteria was observed.
PMCID: PMC3060817  PMID: 21445257
25.  Insulin-like peptides in the mosquito Anopheles stephensi: identification and expression in response to diet and infection with Plasmodium falciparum 
Insulin-like peptides (ILPs) regulate a multitude of biological processes, including metabolism and immunity to infection, and share similar structural motifs across widely divergent taxa. Insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling (IIS) pathway elements are similarly conserved. We have shown that IIS regulates reproduction, innate immunity, and lifespan in female Anopheles stephensi, a major mosquito vector of human malaria. To further explore IIS regulation of these processes, we identified genes encoding five ILPs in this species and characterized their expression in tissues. Antisera to ILP homologs in Anopheles gambiae were used to identify cellular sources in An. stephensi females by immunocytochemistry. We analyzed tissue-specific ILP transcript expression in young and older females, in response to different feeding regimens, and in response to infection with Plasmodium falciparum with quantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR assays. While some ILP transcript changes were evident in older females and in response to blood feeding, significant changes were particularly notable in response to hormonal concentrations of ingested human insulin and to P. falciparum infection. These changes suggest that ILP secretion and action may be similarly responsive in Plasmodium-infected females and potentially alter metabolism and innate immunity.
PMCID: PMC3153599  PMID: 21703270
insect; mosquito; insulin signaling; malaria; Anopheles; Plasmodium

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