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1.  A synthetic sex ratio distortion system for the control of the human malaria mosquito 
Nature communications  2014;5:3977.
It has been theorized that inducing extreme reproductive sex ratios could be a method to suppress or eliminate pest populations1-3. Limited knowledge about the genetic makeup and mode of action of naturally occurring sex distorters1,4 and the prevalence of co-evolving suppressors has hampered their use for control5. Here we generate a synthetic sex distortion system by exploiting the specificity of the homing endonuclease I-PpoI6 which is able to selectively cleave ribosomal gene sequences7,8 of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae that are located exclusively on the mosquito’s X chromosome. We combine structure-based protein engineering and molecular genetics, to restrict the activity of the potentially toxic endonuclease to spermatogenesis. Shredding of the paternal X chromosome prevents it from being transmitted to the next generation, resulting in fully fertile mosquito strains that produce >95% male offspring. We demonstrate that distorter males can efficiently suppress caged wild-type mosquito populations, providing the foundation for a new class of genetic vector control strategies.
PMCID: PMC4057611  PMID: 24915045
3.  INFRAVEC: research capacity for the implementation of genetic control of mosquitoes 
Pathogens and Global Health  2013;107(8):458-462.
PMCID: PMC4073526  PMID: 24428829
4.  IgG2 Antibodies against a Clinical Grade Plasmodium falciparum CSP Vaccine Antigen Associate with Protection against Transgenic Sporozoite Challenge in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e111020.
The availability of a highly purified and well characterized circumsporozoite protein (CSP) is essential to improve upon the partial success of recombinant CSP-based malaria vaccine candidates. Soluble, near full-length, Plasmodium falciparum CSP vaccine antigen (CS/D) was produced in E. coli under bio-production conditions that comply with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). A mouse immunogenicity study was conducted using a stable oil-in-water emulsion (SE) of CS/D in combination with the Toll-Like Receptor 4 (TLR4) agonist Glucopyranosyl Lipid A (GLA/SE), or one of two TLR7/8 agonists: R848 (un-conjugated) or 3M-051 (covalently conjugated). Compared to Alum and SE, GLA/SE induced higher CS/D specific antibody response in Balb/c mice. Subclass analysis showed higher IgG2:IgG1 ratio of GLA/SE induced antibodies as compared to Alum and SE. TLR synergy was not observed when soluble R848 was mixed with GLA/SE. Antibody response of 3M051 formulations in Balb/c was similar to GLA/SE, except for the higher IgG2:IgG1 ratio and a trend towards higher T cell responses in 3M051 containing groups. However, no synergistic enhancement of antibody and T cell response was evident when 3M051 conjugate was mixed with GLA/SE. In C57Bl/6 mice, CS/D adjuvanted with 3M051/SE or GLA/SE induced higher CSP repeat specific titers compared to SE. While, 3M051 induced antibodies had high IgG2c:IgG1 ratio, GLA/SE promoted high levels of both IgG1 and IgG2c. GLA/SE also induced more potent T-cell responses compared to SE in two independent C57/BL6 vaccination studies, suggesting a balanced and productive TH1/TH2 response. GLA and 3M-051 similarly enhanced the protective efficacy of CS/D against challenge with a transgenic P. berghei parasite and most importantly, high levels of cytophilic IgG2 antibodies were associated with protection in this model. Our data indicated that the cGMP-grade, soluble CS/D antigen combined with the TLR4-containing adjuvant GLA/SE warrants further evaluation for protective responses in humans.
PMCID: PMC4208815  PMID: 25343487
5.  Disruption of aminergic signalling reveals novel compounds with distinct inhibitory effects on mosquito reproduction, locomotor function and survival 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:5526.
Insecticide resistance amongst disease vectors is a growing problem and novel compounds are needed. Biogenic amines are important for neurotransmission and we have recently shown a potential role for these in mosquito fertility. Here, we dissected the relative contribution of different aminergic signalling pathways to biological processes essential for vectorial capacity such as fertility, locomotion and survival by injecting agonists and antagonists and showed that octopaminergic/tyraminergic signalling is essential for oviposition and hatching rate. We show that egg melanisation is regulated by adrenergic signalling, whose disruption causes premature melanisation specifically through the action of tyramine. In addition to this, co-injection of tyramine with DOPA, the precursor of melanin, had a strong cumulative negative effect on mosquito locomotion and survival. Dopaminergic and serotonergic antagonists such as amitriptyline and citalopram recapitulate this effect. Together these results reveal potential new target sites for the development of future mosquito sterilants and insecticides.
PMCID: PMC4078307  PMID: 24984706
6.  Noise in multiple sclerosis: unwanted and necessary 
As our knowledge about the etiology of multiple sclerosis (MS) increases, deterministic paradigms appear insufficient to describe the pathogenesis of the disease, and the impression is that stochastic phenomena (i.e. random events not necessarily resulting in disease in all individuals) may contribute to the development of MS. However, sources and mechanisms of stochastic behavior have not been investigated and there is no proposed framework to incorporate nondeterministic processes into disease biology. In this report, we will first describe analogies between physics of nonlinear systems and cell biology, showing how small-scale random perturbations can impact on large-scale phenomena, including cell function. We will then review growing and solid evidence showing that stochastic gene expression (or gene expression “noise”) can be a driver of phenotypic variation. Moreover, we will describe new methods that open unprecedented opportunities for the study of such phenomena in patients and the impact of this information on our understanding of MS course and therapy.
PMCID: PMC4184780  PMID: 25356421
7.  Development of synthetic selfish elements based on modular nucleases in Drosophila melanogaster 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(11):7461-7472.
Selfish genes are DNA elements that increase their rate of genetic transmission at the expense of other genes in the genome and can therefore quickly spread within a population. It has been suggested that selfish elements could be exploited to modify the genome of entire populations for medical and ecological applications. Here we report that transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) and zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) can be engineered into site-specific synthetic selfish elements (SSEs) and demonstrate their transmission of up to 70% in the Drosophila germline. We show here that SSEs can spread via DNA break-induced homologous recombination, a process known as ‘homing’ similar to that observed for homing endonuclease genes (HEGs), despite their fundamentally different modes of DNA binding and cleavage. We observed that TALEN and ZFN have a reduced capability of secondary homing compared to HEG as their repetitive structure had a negative effect on their genetic stability. The modular architecture of ZFNs and TALENs allows for the rapid design of novel SSEs against specific genomic sequences making them potentially suitable for the genetic engineering of wild-type populations of animals and plants, in applications such as gene replacement or population suppression of pest species.
PMCID: PMC4066794  PMID: 24803674
8.  Phenylalanine Metabolism Regulates Reproduction and Parasite Melanization in the Malaria Mosquito 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84865.
The blood meal of the female malaria mosquito is a pre-requisite to egg production and also represents the transmission route for the malaria parasite. The proper and rapid assimilation of proteins and nutrients in the blood meal creates a significant metabolic challenge for the mosquito. To better understand this process we generated a global profile of metabolite changes in response to blood meal of Anopheles gambiae, using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). To disrupt a key pathway of amino acid metabolism we silenced the gene phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) involved in the conversion of the amino acid phenylalanine into tyrosine. We observed increased levels of phenylalanine and the potentially toxic metabolites phenylpyruvate and phenyllactate as well as a reduction in the amount of tyrosine available for melanin synthesis. This in turn resulted in a significant impairment of the melanotic encapsulation response against the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei. Furthermore silencing of PAH resulted in a significant impairment of mosquito fertility associated with reduction of laid eggs, retarded vitellogenesis and impaired melanisation of the chorion. Carbidopa, an inhibitor of the downstream enzyme DOPA decarboxylase that coverts DOPA into dopamine, produced similar effects on egg melanization and hatching rate suggesting that egg chorion maturation is mainly regulated via dopamine. This study sheds new light on the role of amino acid metabolism in regulating reproduction and immunity.
PMCID: PMC3883676  PMID: 24409310
9.  Transgenic Parasites Stably Expressing Full-Length Plasmodium falciparum Circumsporozoite Protein as a Model for Vaccine Down-Selection in Mice Using Sterile Protection as an Endpoint 
Circumsporozoite protein (CSP) of Plasmodium falciparum is a protective human malaria vaccine candidate. There is an urgent need for models that can rapidly down-select novel CSP-based vaccine candidates. In the present study, the mouse-mosquito transmission cycle of a transgenic Plasmodium berghei malaria parasite stably expressing a functional full-length P. falciparum CSP was optimized to consistently produce infective sporozoites for protection studies. A minimal sporozoite challenge dose was established, and protection was defined as the absence of blood-stage parasites 14 days after intravenous challenge. The specificity of protection was confirmed by vaccinating mice with multiple CSP constructs of differing lengths and compositions. Constructs that induced high NANP repeat-specific antibody titers in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays were protective, and the degree of protection was dependent on the antigen dose. There was a positive correlation between antibody avidity and protection. The antibodies in the protected mice recognized the native CSP on the parasites and showed sporozoite invasion inhibitory activity. Passive transfer of anti-CSP antibodies into naive mice also induced protection. Thus, we have demonstrated the utility of a mouse efficacy model to down-select human CSP-based vaccine formulations.
PMCID: PMC3675977  PMID: 23536694
10.  Silencing of the Hsf gene, the transcriptional regulator of A. gambiae male accessory glands, inhibits the formation of the mating plug in mated females and disrupts their monogamous behaviour 
Pathogens and Global Health  2012;106(7):405-412.
Discovering the molecular factors that shape the mating behaviour and the fertility of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, the principal vector of human malaria, is regarded as critical to better understand its reproductive success as well as for identifying new leads for malaria control measures. In A. gambiae mating induces complex behavioural and physiological changes in the females, including refractoriness to subsequent mating and induction of egg-laying. In other insects including Drosophila a group of proteins named Accessory gland proteins (Acps), produced by males and transferred with sperm to the female reproductive tract, have been implicated in this post-mating response. Although Acps represent a set of promising candidates for unravelling the mating physiology, their role in inducing behavioural changes in mated A. gambiae females remains largely unknown. In this work, we demonstrate that a down-regulation of a large fraction of Acp genes via silencing of the Acp regulating transcription factor Hsf, abolishes the formation of mating plug in mated females and fails to induce refractoriness of mated female to subsequent inseminations. A significant fraction of females mated to Hsf silenced males (66%) failed to receive the mating plug though seminal fluid had been transferred as documented by the presence of spermatozoa in the female sperm storage organ. Furthermore, nearly all females (95%) mated to HSF-silenced males were re-inseminated when exposed to males carrying EGPF marked sperm. Our findings provide evidence showing that Acp genes regulated by the transcription factor HSF play a key role in the function of the male accessory glands.
PMCID: PMC3589661  PMID: 23265612
Reproductive Biology; Malaria; Vector-control; Fertility; Post-mating Behaviour; Receptivity to Remating; Mating Plug; Anopheles gambiae
11.  Editorial 
Pathogens and Global Health  2012;106(4):191-192.
PMCID: PMC4001582  PMID: 23265416
12.  Editorial 
Pathogens and Global Health  2012;106(3):129-130.
PMCID: PMC4001566  PMID: 23265364
13.  CluGene: A Bioinformatics Framework for the Identification of Co-Localized, Co-Expressed and Co-Regulated Genes Aimed at the Investigation of Transcriptional Regulatory Networks from High-Throughput Expression Data 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66196.
The full understanding of the mechanisms underlying transcriptional regulatory networks requires unravelling of complex causal relationships. Genome high-throughput technologies produce a huge amount of information pertaining gene expression and regulation; however, the complexity of the available data is often overwhelming and tools are needed to extract and organize the relevant information. This work starts from the assumption that the observation of co-occurrent events (in particular co-localization, co-expression and co-regulation) may provide a powerful starting point to begin unravelling transcriptional regulatory networks. Co-expressed genes often imply shared functional pathways; co-expressed and functionally related genes are often co-localized, too; moreover, co-expressed and co-localized genes are also potential targets for co-regulation; finally, co-regulation seems more frequent for genes mapped to proximal chromosome regions. Despite the recognized importance of analysing co-occurrent events, no bioinformatics solution allowing the simultaneous analysis of co-expression, co-localization and co-regulation is currently available. Our work resulted in developing and valuating CluGene, a software providing tools to analyze multiple types of co-occurrences within a single interactive environment allowing the interactive investigation of combined co-expression, co-localization and co-regulation of genes. The use of CluGene will enhance the power of testing hypothesis and experimental approaches aimed at unravelling transcriptional regulatory networks. The software is freely available at
PMCID: PMC3688840  PMID: 23823315
14.  Editorial 
Pathogens and Global Health  2012;106(2):67-68.
PMCID: PMC4001486
15.  Pathogens and Global Health 
PMCID: PMC4001503
16.  Protective Antibody and CD8+ T-Cell Responses to the Plasmodium falciparum Circumsporozoite Protein Induced by a Nanoparticle Vaccine 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e48304.
The worldwide burden of malaria remains a major public health problem due, in part, to the lack of an effective vaccine against the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. An effective vaccine will most likely require the induction of antigen specific CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells as well as long-lasting antibody responses all working in concert to eliminate the infection. We report here the effective modification of a self-assembling protein nanoparticle (SAPN) vaccine previously proven effective in control of a P. berghei infection in a rodent model to now present B- and T-cell epitopes of the human malaria parasite P. falciparum in a platform capable of being used in human subjects.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To establish the basis for a SAPN-based vaccine, B- and CD8+ T-cell epitopes from the P. falciparum circumsporozoite protein (PfCSP) and the universal CD4 T-helper epitope PADRE were engineered into a versatile small protein (∼125 amino acids) that self-assembles into a spherical nanoparticle repetitively displaying the selected epitopes. P. falciparum epitope specific immune responses were evaluated in mice using a transgenic P. berghei malaria parasite of mice expressing the human malaria full-length P. falciparum circumsporozoite protein (Tg-Pb/PfCSP). We show that SAPN constructs, delivered in saline, can induce high-titer, long-lasting (1 year) protective antibody and poly-functional (IFNγ+, IL-2+) long-lived central memory CD8+ T-cells. Furthermore, we demonstrated that these Ab or CD8+ T–cells can independently provide sterile protection against a lethal challenge of the transgenic parasites.
The SAPN construct induces long-lasting antibody and cellular immune responses to epitope specific sequences of the P. falciparum circumsporozoite protein (PfCSP) and prevents infection in mice by a transgenic P. berghei parasite displaying the full length PfCSP.
PMCID: PMC3483151  PMID: 23144750
17.  Engineering mosquito population for vector control 
Malaria Journal  2012;11(Suppl 1):O44.
PMCID: PMC3472309
19.  Demasculinization of the Anopheles gambiae X chromosome 
In a number of organisms sex-biased genes are non-randomly distributed between autosomes and the shared sex chromosome X (or Z). Studies on Anopheles gambiae have produced conflicting results regarding the underrepresentation of male-biased genes on the X chromosome and it is unclear to what extent sexual antagonism, dosage compensation or X-inactivation in the male germline, the evolutionary forces that have been suggested to affect the chromosomal distribution of sex-biased genes, are operational in Anopheles.
We performed a meta-analysis of sex-biased gene expression in Anopheles gambiae which provides evidence for a general underrepresentation of male-biased genes on the X-chromosome that increased in significance with the observed degree of sex-bias. A phylogenomic comparison between Drosophila melanogaster, Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus also indicates that the Anopheles X chromosome strongly disfavours the evolutionary conservation of male-biased expression and that novel male-biased genes are more likely to arise on autosomes. Finally, we demonstrate experimentally that transgenes situated on the Anopheles gambiae X chromosome are transcriptionally silenced in the male germline.
The data presented here support the hypothesis that the observed demasculinization of the Anopheles X chromosome is driven by X-chromosome inactivation in the male germline and by sexual antagonism. The demasculinization appears to be the consequence of a loss of male-biased expression, rather than a failure in the establishment or the extinction of male-biased genes.
PMCID: PMC3428665  PMID: 22607633
Anopheles gambiae; demasculinization; germline x-chromosome inactivation; sexual antagonism; dosage compensation
20.  Continuing Intense Malaria Transmission in Northern Uganda 
Recent reports of reductions in malaria transmission in several African countries have resulted in optimism that malaria can be eliminated in parts of Africa where it is currently endemic. It is not known whether these trends are global or whether they are also present in areas where political instability has hindered effective malaria control. We determined malaria parasite carriage and age-dependent antibody responses to Plasmodium falciparum antigens in cross-sectional surveys in Apac, northern Uganda that was affected by political unrest. Under-five parasite prevalence was 55.8% (115/206) by microscopy and 71.9% (41/57) by polymerase chain reaction. Plasmodium ovale alone, or as a co-infection, was detected in 8.6% (12/139) and Plasmodium malariae in 4.3% (6/139) of the infections. Age seroprevalence curves gave no indication of recent changes in malaria transmission intensity. Malaria control remains a tremendous challenge in areas that have not benefited from large-scale interventions, illustrated here by the district of Apac.
PMCID: PMC3083756  PMID: 21540398
21.  Roles of the Amino Terminal Region and Repeat Region of the Plasmodium berghei Circumsporozoite Protein in Parasite Infectivity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e32524.
The circumsporozoite protein (CSP) plays a key role in malaria sporozoite infection of both mosquito salivary glands and the vertebrate host. The conserved Regions I and II have been well studied but little is known about the immunogenic central repeat region and the N-terminal region of the protein. Rodent malaria Plasmodium berghei parasites, in which the endogenous CS gene has been replaced with the avian Plasmodium gallinaceum CS (PgCS) sequence, develop normally in the A. stephensi mosquito midgut but the sporozoites are not infectious. We therefore generated P. berghei transgenic parasites carrying the PgCS gene, in which the repeat region was replaced with the homologous region of P. berghei CS (PbCS). A further line, in which both the N-terminal region and repeat region were replaced with the homologous regions of PbCS, was also generated. Introduction of the PbCS repeat region alone, into the PgCS gene, did not rescue sporozoite species-specific infectivity. However, the introduction of both the PbCS repeat region and the N-terminal region into the PgCS gene completely rescued infectivity, in both the mosquito vector and the mammalian host. Immunofluorescence experiments and western blot analysis revealed correct localization and proteolytic processing of CSP in the chimeric parasites. The results demonstrate, in vivo, that the repeat region of P. berghei CSP, alone, is unable to mediate sporozoite infectivity in either the mosquito or the mammalian host, but suggest an important role for the N-terminal region in sporozoite host cell invasion.
PMCID: PMC3290588  PMID: 22393411
22.  A synthetic homing endonuclease-based gene drive system in the human malaria mosquito 
Nature  2011;473(7346):212-215.
Genetic methods of manipulating or eradicating disease vector populations have long been discussed as an attractive alternative to existing control measures because of their potential advantages in terms of effectiveness and species specificity1–3. The development of genetically engineered malaria-resistant mosquitoes has shown, as a proof-of-principle, the possibility of targeting the mosquito’s ability to serve as a disease vector4–7. The translation of these achievements into control measures requires an effective technology to spread a genetic modification from laboratory mosquitoes to field populations8. We have previously suggested that homing endonuclease genes (HEGs), a class of simple selfish genetic elements, could be exploited for this purpose9. Here we demonstrate that a synthetic genetic element, consisting of mosquito regulatory regions10 and the homing endonuclease gene I-SceI11–13, can substantially increase its transmission to the progeny in transgenic mosquitoes of the human malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. We show that the I-SceI element is able to rapidly invade receptive mosquito cage populations, validating mathematical models for the transmission dynamics of HEGs. Molecular analyses confirm that expression of I-SceI in the male germline induces high rates of site-specific chromosomal cleavage and gene conversion, which results in the gain of the I-SceI gene, and underlies the observed genetic drive. These findings demonstrate a new mechanism by which genetic control measures can be implemented. Our results also show in principle how sequence-specific genetic drive elements like HEGs could be used to take the step from the genetic engineering of individuals to the genetic engineering of populations.
PMCID: PMC3093433  PMID: 21508956
23.  Serum IgE Reactivity Profiling in an Asthma Affected Cohort 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22319.
Epidemiological evidence indicates that atopic asthma correlates with high serum IgE levels though the contribution of allergen specific IgE to the pathogenesis and the severity of the disease is still unclear.
We developed a microarray immunoassay containing 103 allergens to study the IgE reactivity profiles of 485 asthmatic and 342 non-asthmatic individuals belonging to families whose members have a documented history of asthma and atopy. We employed k-means clustering, to investigate whether a particular IgE reactivity profile correlated with asthma and other atopic conditions such as rhinitis, conjunctivitis and eczema.
Both case-control and parent-to-siblings analyses demonstrated that while the presence of specific IgE against individual allergens correlated poorly with pathological conditions, particular reactivity profiles were significantly associated with asthma (p<10E-09). An artificial neural network (ANN)-based algorithm, calibrated with the profile reactivity data, correctly classified as asthmatic or non-asthmatic 78% of the individual examined. Multivariate statistical analysis demonstrated that the familiar relationships of the study population did not affect the observed correlations.
These findings indicate that asthma is a higher-order phenomenon related to patterns of IgE reactivity rather than to single antibody reactions. This notion sheds new light on the pathogenesis of the disease and can be readily employed to distinguish asthmatic and non-asthmatic individuals on the basis of their serum reactivity profile.
PMCID: PMC3150333  PMID: 21829614
24.  Disruption of plasmepsin-4 and merozoites surface protein-7 genes in Plasmodium berghei induces combined virulence-attenuated phenotype 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:39.
Blood stage malaria parasites causing a mild and self limited infection in mice have been obtained with either radiation or chemical mutagenesis showing the possibility of developing an attenuated malaria vaccine. Targeted disruption of plasmepsin-4 (pm4) or the merozoite surface protein-7 (msp7) genes also induces a virulence-attenuated phenotype in terms of absence of experimental cerebral malaria (ECM), delayed increase of parasitemia and reduced mortality rate. The decrease in virulence in parasites lacking either pm4 or msp7 is however incomplete and dependent on the parasite and mouse strain combination. The sequential disruption of both genes induced remarkable virulence-attenuated blood-stage parasites characterized by a self-resolving infection with low levels of parasitemia and no ECM. Furthermore, convalescent mice were protected against the challenge with P. berghei or P. yoelii parasites for several months. These observations provide a proof-of-concept step for the development of human malaria vaccines based on genetically attenuated blood-stage parasites.
PMCID: PMC3216526  PMID: 22355558
25.  Transcription Regulation of Sex-Biased Genes during Ontogeny in the Malaria Vector Anopheles gambiae 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e21572.
In Anopheles gambiae, sex-regulated genes are responsible for controlling gender dimorphism and are therefore crucial in determining the ability of female mosquitoes to transmit human malaria. The identification and functional characterization of these genes will shed light on the sexual development and maturation of mosquitoes and provide useful targets for genetic control measures aimed at reducing mosquito fertility and/or distorting the sex ratio.
We conducted a genome wide transcriptional analysis of sex-regulated genes from early developmental stages through adulthood combined with functional screening of novel gonadal genes. Our results demonstrate that the male-biased genes undergo a major transcription turnover starting from larval stages to adulthood. The male biased genes at the adult stage include a significant high number of unique sequences compared to the rest of the genome. This is in contrast to female-biased genes that are much more conserved and are mainly activated during late developmental stages.
The high frequency of unique sequences would indicate that male-biased genes evolve more rapidly than the rest of the genome. This finding is particularly intriguing because A. gambiae is a strictly female monogamous species suggesting that driving forces in addition to sperm competition must account for the rapid evolution of male-biased genes. We have also identified and functionally characterized a number of previously unknown A. gambiae testis- and ovary-specific genes. Two of these genes, zero population growth and a suppressor of defective silencing 3 domain of the histone deacetylase co-repressor complex, were shown to play a key role in gonad development.
PMCID: PMC3128074  PMID: 21738713

Results 1-25 (48)