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Keywords:

  • adaptive selection;
  • apyrase;
  • canine leishmaniasis;
  • phlebotomine sandflies;
  • salivary peptides;
  • vaccination

Abstract

Vaccine development is informed by a knowledge of genetic variation among antigen alleles, especially the distribution of positive and balancing selection in populations and species. A combined approach using population genetic and phylogenetic methods to detect selective signatures can therefore be informative for identifying vaccine candidates. Parasitic Leishmania species cause the disease leishmaniasis in humans and mammalian reservoir hosts after inoculation by female phlebotomine sandflies. Like other arthropod vectors of disease agents, sandflies use salivary peptides to counteract host haemostatic and immunomodulatory responses during bloodfeeding, and these peptides are vaccine candidates because they can protect against Leishmania infection. We detected no contemporary adaptive selection on one salivary peptide, apyrase, in 20 populations of Phlebotomus ariasi, a European vector of Leishmania infantum. Maximum likelihood branch models on a gene phylogeny showed apyrase to be a single copy in P. ariasi but an ancient duplication event associated with temporary positive selection was observed in its sister group, which contains most Mediterranean vectors of L. infantum. The absence of contemporary adaptive selection on the apyrase of P. ariasi may result from this sandfly’s opportunistic feeding behaviour. Our study illustrates how the molecular population genetics of arthropods can help investigate the potential of salivary peptides for disease control and for understanding geographical variation in vector competence.