Lymphatic filariasis is a mosquito-borne disease that is debilitating, horribly disfiguring, and affects an estimated 120 million people throughout the tropics. It is caused by filarial nematodes (Wuchereria bancrofti and Brugia malayi) that inhabit the lymphatic system. To perpetuate their life cycle, inseminated adult female worms produce millions of microfilariae (mf) that enter the blood stream, in the hopes that some will be ingested by an appropriate mosquito vector. Indeed, the presence of sheathed mf in patient blood is a definitive diagnosis for lymphatic filariasis. Throughout most of their geographic range, W. bancrofti and B. malayi exhibit nocturnal periodicity - that is, the mf only become abundant in peripheral blood during the middle of the night. During the day, the mf become sequestered in the alveolar capillaries of the lungs and are virtually absent from peripheral blood, making them inaccessible not only to diagnostic clinicians but also to potential mosquito vectors. The mechanism of nocturnal periodicity has been a neglected area of research in recent decades and as a result, the pacemaker responsible for synchronizing the circadian rhythms of the mf with that of their human hosts has never been elucidated. Hypothesis: The primary host cue that regulates mf periodicity is the bioactive amine, melatonin, which is secreted into the blood stream from the pineal gland at a regular, circadian periodicity. To test this hypothesis, we will use a naturally-occurring avian system of filariasis with pronounced nocturnal periodicity (e.g., Chandlerella quiscali filarids in the Common Grackle).
The specific aims to be tested are 1) to determine if endogenous melatonin secretion regulates the nocturnal periodicity of microfilarial parasites,and 2) to determine if melatonin receptor antagonists can be administered to microfilaremic hosts in order to de-synchronize the circadian rhythms of host and parasite and thereby prevent the ingestion of mf by mosquitoes. Significance: If mf are prevented from being ingested by mosquitoes, then the parasites within infected hosts will not be spread and further transmission of the disease will be halted. This R03 application is a proof-of-concept study that may lead to an entirely new therapeutic approach to block the transmission of lymphatic filariasis.

Public Health Relevance

The work examines the phenomenon of nocturnal periodicity of filarial parasites from the perspective of hormonal control of host circadian rhythms. It may lead to a new therapeutic approach to block the transmission of lymphatic filariasis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Small Research Grants (R03)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-PTHE-N (09))
Program Officer
Mcgugan, Glen C
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Dakota
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Grand Forks
United States
Zip Code
Mehus, Joseph O; Vaughan, Jefferson A (2013) Molecular identification of vertebrate and hemoparasite DNA within mosquito blood meals from eastern North Dakota. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 13:818-24
McNulty, Samantha N; Fischer, Kerstin; Mehus, Joseph O et al. (2012) Absence of Wolbachia endobacteria in Chandlerella quiscali, an avian filarial parasite. J Parasitol 98:382-7
Vaughan, Jefferson A; Mehus, Joseph O; Brewer, Christina M et al. (2012) Theoretical potential of passerine filariasis to enhance the enzootic transmission of West Nile virus. J Med Entomol 49:1430-41
McNulty, Samantha N; Mullin, Andrew S; Vaughan, Jefferson A et al. (2012) Comparing the mitochondrial genomes of Wolbachia-dependent and independent filarial nematode species. BMC Genomics 13:145