For many years scientists thought that mosquitoes provided the disease organisms which they spread with a relatively free ride because the insects didn’t have much in the way of natural defenses to fight off these microscopic stowaways.
Hillyer Lab / Vanderbilt University
This microscopic fluorescent image of the mosquito's circulatory system shows muscle cells in green; cellular DNA in blue and periostal hemocytes in orange.
Recent research, however, has revealed that mosquitoes have surprisingly sophisticated immune systems. Unlike humans and most other animals, mosquitoes do not generate antibodies that identify and attack specific infectious agents. However, they have developed alternative methods for destroying various pathogens, including parasites that cause malaria.
In the latest study of the mosquito’s immune system – published online on Nov. 29 in the journal PLOS Pathogens – a pair of Vanderbilt biologists have discovered mosquitoes possess a previously unknown mechanism for destroying pathogens that takes advantage of the peculiarities of the insect’s circulatory system to increase its effectiveness.
Studies of this sort are providing the information needed to manipulate the mosquito immune system to block malaria parasites more effectively and to develop other novel disease control strategies.
“It may come as a surprise to many people, but mosquitoes get sick too and they need to protect themselves,” said Julián Hillyer, assistant professor of biological sciences, who conducted the research with graduate student Jonas King.
“The mosquito’s immune system isn’t as complex as ours. About 350 of its 12,500 genes have immune functions,” Hillyer said. “But it is remarkably effective. The vast majority of the malaria parasites that infect a mosquito die before they can get into the salivary glands where they can infect vertebrate prey, such as humans.”
“Pathogens like those that cause malaria, dengue and yellow fevers come from the female’s blood meal and end up in the mosquito’s gut,” Hillyer said. “They then leave the gut and enter the mosquito’s main body cavity, and from there they have to make their way to its salivary glands.”
Inside the body cavity, pathogens have to fight two main forces: the swift circulation of the mosquito’s own blood, and attacks from the mosquito’s immune system.
The mosquito’s circulatory system is dramatically different from that of mammals and humans. A long tube extends from the insect’s head to tail and is hung just under the cuticle shell that forms the mosquito’s back. The heart makes up the rear two-thirds of the tube and consists of a series of valves within the tube and helical coils of muscle that surround the tube. These muscles cause the tube to expand and contract, producing a worm-like peristaltic pumping action.
Most of the time, the heart pumps the mosquito’s blood—a clear liquid called hemolymph—toward the mosquito’s head, but occasionally it reverses direction. The mosquito doesn’t have arteries and veins like mammals. Instead, the blood flows from the heart into the abdominal cavity and eventually cycles back through the heart. “The mosquito’s heart works something like the pump in a garden fountain,” Hillyer said.
In order to make it to their goal, pathogens must pass through one of the heart valves. As a result, the valves act as physical bottlenecks during the migration of viruses and malaria parasites.
Cells called hemocytes are an important element in the mosquito’s defense system. These are special immune cells carried in the hemolymph that play a role analogous to white blood cells in humans. They circulate around the body with the hemolyph and attack foreign cells and viruses when they contact them.
What Hillyer and King discovered was that when a mosquito becomes infected with bacteria or malaria parasites, a population of hemocytes is recruited to the valves of the heart, where they capture and destroy invading pathogens. These new mosquito immune cells, which they have named periostial hemocytes, substantially increase their odds of encountering and destroying invaders by congregating in areas of high hemolymph flow.
“What happens to these pathogens while they are carried inside the mosquito’s body is a critical part of the infection cycle that we are just beginning to understand,” said Hillyer.
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation grant number IOS-1051636.
Visit Research News @ Vanderbilt for more research news from Vanderbilt. [Media Note: Vanderbilt has a 24/7 TV and radio studio with a dedicated fiber optic line and ISDN line. Use of the TV studio with Vanderbilt experts is free, except for reserving fiber time.]
David F. Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Es ist noch immer weitgehend unbekannt, wie die komplexen neuronalen Netzwerke im Gehirn aufgebaut sind. Insbesondere in der Hirnrinde der Säugetiere, wo Sehen, Denken und Orientierung berechnet werden, sind die Regeln, nach denen die Nervenzellen miteinander verschaltet sind, nur unzureichend erforscht. Wissenschaftler um Moritz Helmstaedter vom Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung in Frankfurt am Main und Helene Schmidt vom Bernstein-Zentrum der Humboldt-Universität in Berlin haben nun in dem Teil der Großhirnrinde, der für die räumliche Orientierung zuständig ist, ein überraschend präzises Verschaltungsmuster der Nervenzellen entdeckt.
Wie die Forscher in Nature berichten (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005), haben die...
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Graphen besitzt extreme Eigenschaften und ist vielseitig verwendbar. Mit einem Trick lassen sich sogar die Spins im Graphen kontrollieren. Dies gelang einem HZB-Team schon vor einiger Zeit: Die Physiker haben dafür eine Lage Graphen auf einem Nickelsubstrat aufgebracht und Goldatome dazwischen eingeschleust. Im Fachblatt 2D Materials zeigen sie nun, warum dies sich derartig stark auf die Spins auswirkt. Graphen kommt so auch als Material für künftige Informationstechnologien infrage, die auf der Verarbeitung von Spins als Informationseinheiten basieren.
Graphen ist wohl die exotischste Form von Kohlenstoff: Alle Atome sind untereinander nur in der Ebene verbunden und bilden ein Netz mit sechseckigen Maschen,...
22.09.2017 | Veranstaltungen
22.09.2017 | Veranstaltungen
21.09.2017 | Veranstaltungen
22.09.2017 | Veranstaltungsnachrichten
22.09.2017 | Förderungen Preise
22.09.2017 | Biowissenschaften Chemie