Knockdown of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling in the midgut of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes using antisense morpholinos

Authors

  • J. E. Pietri,

    1. Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
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  • K. W. Cheung,

    1. Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
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  • S. Luckhart

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
    • Correspondence: Shirley Luckhart, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of California, 3437 Tupper Hall, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616. Tel.: 530-754-6963; e-mail: sluckhart@ucdavis.edu

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Abstract

Arthropod-borne infectious diseases are responsible for nearly 1.5 million deaths annually across the globe, with malaria responsible for >50% of these deaths. Recent efforts to enhance malaria control have focused on developing genetically modified Anopheles mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria parasite infection by manipulating proteins that are essential to the immune response. Although this approach has shown promise, the lack of efficient genetic tools in the mosquito makes it difficult to investigate innate immunity using reverse genetics. Current gene knockdown strategies based on small interfering RNA are typically labourious, inefficient, and require extensive training. In the present study, we describe the use of morpholino antisense oligomers to knockdown MEK-ERK signalling in the midgut of Anopheles stephensi through a simple feeding protocol. Anti-MEK morpholino provided in a saline meal was readily ingested by female mosquitoes with minimal toxicity and resulted in knockdown of total MEK protein levels 3–4 days after morpholino feeding. Further, anti-MEK morpholino feeding attenuated inducible phosphorylation of the downstream kinase ERK and, as predicted by previous work, reduced parasite burden in mosquitoes infected with Plasmodium falciparum. To our knowledge, this is the first example of morpholino use for target protein knockdown via feeding in an insect vector. Our results suggest this method is not only efficient for studies of individual proteins, but also for studies of phenotypic control by complex cell signalling networks. As such, our protocol is an effective alternative to current methods for gene knockdown in arthropods.

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