Efforts to control vector-borne pathogens have been hindered by evolution of insecticide resistance and failing drug therapies. To improve the sustainability and efficacy of control efforts, alternative vector control strategies are being considered. Infection with the maternally inherited endosymbiont Wolbachia pipientis has been demonstrated to inhibit viruses and parasites in vector arthropods. Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are currently being released into nature to control human disease. However, a worrying trend is emerging whereby Wolbachia infections enhance rather than suppress pathogens in insect vectors. We have now demonstrated Wolbachia-mediated extent of Wolbachia-induced pathogen enhancement, and the mechanism(s) leading to this phenotype enhancement of several arboviral human pathogens in the mosquito vector Culex tarsalis; a sobering reminder that the pathogen inhibitory effects resulting from Wolbachia infection in some insects cannot and should not be generalized across vector-pathogen systems. Understanding the general are critical for estimating how likely Wolbachia-based control strategies are to fail or make things worse, for identifying potential points where Wolbachia-based control is likely to break down in the field, and for planning risk mitigation strategies in he case of unforeseen harmful outcomes. In this research, we will investigate the hypothesis that Wolbachia-induced modulation of the mosquito hologenome can lead to increased arbovirus infection/transmission in some vector-pathogen systems of human importance. This hypothesis will be examined in the following three Specific Aims: (1) Determine the generality of Wolbachia- induced arbovirus enhancement in multiple mosquito-pathogen systems; (2) Determine the role of Wolbachia- microbiome interactions in mediating WNV enhancement in Cx. tarsalis; (3) Determine the role of Wolbachia- induced modulation of mosquito gene transcription in mediating WNV enhancement in Cx. tarsalis.

Public Health Relevance

Infection with Wolbachia bacteria commonly makes vector insects refractory to pathogen transmission. However, Wolbachia infection can at times increase pathogen transmission by vector insects. We have discovered that Wolbachia can enhance infection of multiple arboviruses in Culex tarsalis mosquitoes. In this research, we will quantify how common Wolbachia-?based pathogen enhancement is in mosquitoes and determine the mechanism(s) responsible for WNV enhancement. These data will allow us to estimate how likely Wolbachia-based control strategies are to fail or make things worse, for identifying potential points where Wolbachia-based control is likely to break down in the field, and for planning risk mitigation strategies in the case of unforeseen harmful outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Vector Biology Study Section (VB)
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Costero-Saint Denis, Adriana
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Pennsylvania State University
Schools of Earth Sciences/Natur
University Park
United States
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