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Comparative and functional genomics of the innate immune system in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae


* Fotis C. Kafatos
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Meyerhofstrasse 1, 69117 Heidelberg
Tel.: +49 6221 387201
Fax: +49 6221 387211


Summary:  In much of Africa, the mosquito Anopheles gambiae is the major vector of human malaria, a devastating infectious disease caused by Plasmodium parasites. Vector and parasite interact at multiple stages and locations, and the nature and effectiveness of this reciprocal interaction determines the success of transmission. Many of the interactions engage the mosquito's innate immunity, a primitive but very effective defense system. In some cases, the mosquito kills the parasite, thus blocking the transmission cycle. However, not all interactions are antagonistic; some represent immune evasion. The sequence of the A. gambiae genome revealed numerous potential components of the innate immune system, and it established that they evolve rapidly, as summarized in the present review. Their rapid evolution by gene family expansion diversification as well as the prevalence of haplotype alleles in the best-studied families may reflect selective adaptation of the immune system to the exigencies of multiple immune challenges in a variety of ecologic niches. As a follow-up to the comparative genomic analysis, the development of functional genomic methodologies has provided novel opportunities for understanding the immune system and the nature of its interactions with the parasite. In this context, identification of both Plasmodium antagonists and protectors in the mosquito represents a significant conceptual advance. In addition to providing fundamental understanding of primitive immune systems, studies of mosquito interactions with the parasite open unprecedented opportunities for novel interventions against malaria transmission. The generation of transgenic mosquitoes that resist malaria infection in the wild and the development of antimalarial ‘smart sprays’ capable of disrupting interactions that are protective of the parasite, or reinforcing others that are antagonistic, represent technical challenges but also immense opportunities for improvement of global health.