« This Week in Telescopes | Main | Gamma Rays : Electromagnetic Spectrum :: Heliskiing : Sports »

Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgMultiple viral diseases are spread through vectors, like ticks and mosquitoes, resulting in massive health care issues and epidemics worldwide. My question has always been, "if the vectors are infected with the virus, are they getting a disease? And what is in it for the host organism? What is driving the vector to spread the viral infection?"


Cough, cough (?). Aedes aegypti (wikipedia.org).

George Dimopoulous’ group at Johns Hopkins University shed light on these questions in their latest publication on Dengue virus and the effect on its main vector, mosquito species Aedes aegypti.


A (more than brief) summary on Dengue virus (DENV):

DENV infects over 100 million people yearly, and more than one-third of the world’s population (2.5 billion, to be exact) is living in areas at risk for transmission (www.cdc.gov/dengue/).


Red dots indicate high-risk areas, this data is from the last 3 months (CDC.gov/dengue/).

Though DENV is listed as a tropic and subtropic illness, it is clear from the map that the Northern hemisphere is being closed in on, and that the “flood line,” which generally indicates where Aedes aegypti are present, is ever-rising. Unfortunately for the US, mosquitoes cannot be stopped at the border.


DENV transmission begins with a DENV-infected person. This person will have virus circulating in their blood (viremia) for 4-5 days. During this period, an uninfected Aedes aegypti mosquito bites the infected human, ingesting DENV-infected blood. Within the mosquito, DENV replicates within the midgut epithelium and subsequently spreads through the hemolymph to replicate in the fat body and trachea. WIthin 1-2 weeks, it spreads to the salivary glands. Next, the infected mosquito bites another susceptible human and transmits the virus to that person, along with every other human that it bites for the rest of its life.

Of note, vertical, or mosquito-to-mosquito, transmission has been reported; however, mosquitoes mainly acquire DENV by feeding on the blood of an infected human.

DENV seems to have a pretty active life in the mosquito. What is happening in there?

What we do know is that infection of the salivary gland is particularly important for the transmission of DENV. Mosquito salivary gland produces numerous anti-coagulants (to let the blood flow freely), anti-inflammatory proteins and vasodilatory proteins (for better ease in probing and collecting blood from humans), and its immune system reduces viral and bacterial loads in the human blood that is ingested.

Additionally, mosquito saliva can induce an anti-inflammatory immune reaction in the host, most likely in the event that the human cannot detect the bug on their arm sucking their blood, but this can also increase the viremia levels, increasing the chance of infection.

Is there any antiviral defense in the salivary gland?

Interestingly, mosquitoes possess a potent immune system, capable of responding to many microbes – but most groups have studied the effect of DENV in the midgut, not the salivary gland.

In order to gain a better understanding of how DENV was affecting the salivary gland, Dimopoulous’ group did an amazing, yet relatively simple, experiment: They looked at gene expression in non-infected A. aegypti salivary glands and DENV-infected A. aegypti salivary glands to identify genes affected by DENV infection.

In this approach, they used whole-genome microarray-based analyses to compare the transcript levels in both types of salivary glands. Their results suggested a “broad impact of DENV infection on a variety of salivary gland functions, including those implicated in immunity, host-seeking, and blood acquisition”. Yes, this means that DENV is controlling the immune response and BEHAVIOR.

To break it down:

Indeed, they did find that A. aegypti mount an antiviral immune response in the salivary glands during DENV infection. This is very cool.

Most interestingly (to me, but probably to you as well), was that two genes they found that were over-expressed during infection of DENV in the salivary glands, were odorant-binding proteins (OBP) that affect host-seeking and blood-feeding – meaning, the virus is controlling mosquito behavior through regulation of chemosensory genes! This is amazing.

Separately from this microarray, they specifically silenced these two genes and found that there was increased probing initiating (host-seeking behavior) and probing times, “indicating less efficient feeding behavior”.

Hold on.

This is preliminary data on viral control of behavior genes; however, what an intriguing finding! I can’t think of a virus that induces behavioral changes in humans except H1Z1…


Shuzhen Sim, Jose L. Ramirez, George Dimopoulos (2012). Dengue Virus Infection of the Aedes aegypti Salivary Gland and Chemosensory Apparatus Induces Genes that Modulate Infection and Blood-Feeding Behavior PLoS Pathogens, 8 (3), 1-15

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (11)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Good Web-site, Maintain the great job. Regards!
  • Response
    Response: Check This Out
    Amazing Site, Continue the good job. Thanks for your time.
  • Response
    Response: Organic Coffee
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    Response: preventivi online
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    Response: linkedin.com
    Zombies? Viruses Controlling Mosquito Blood-Feeding Behavior - Blog - Smaller Questions
  • Response
    serrurier urgence paris 17
  • Response
    Response: paper writing
    Mosquitoes are very dangerous insect resulting in massive health care issues and epidemics worldwide. Dengue is deadly fever which has taken lives of 100 million all over the world. This is a good research blog. You have collected lot of data. Which very useful for me.
  • Response
    Response: Dining Room Lights

Reader Comments (3)

This is kind of disturbing to me.

Are other people researching other vectors' immune responses to different viruses?

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Scoles

I am intrigued and disturbed by this. There has been some research out there which implicates viruses as a trigger for developing schizophrenia in utero or as playing a role in Alzheimer's disease - but this is the first time I've read about a virus having a more direct impact on behavior. Most of what I've read in this vein has been about the effect different bacteria have on behavior in murine and human models - equally intriguing and disturbing in its own right.

Please be careful cleaning out catboxes! (On the other hand, you have dogs, so perhaps you're safe from toxoplasmosis?)

April 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCamp Other

This is even more disturbing:
or more entertainingly

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Egan

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>