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Category: publications

Microclimate and Larval Habitat Density Predict Adult Aedes albopictus Abundance in Urban Areas

The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, transmits several arboviruses of public health importance, including chikungunya and dengue. Since its introduction to the United States in 1985, the species has invaded more than 40 states, including temperate areas not previously at risk of Aedes-transmitted arboviruses. Mathematical models incorporate climatic variables in predictions of site-specific Ae. albopictus abundances to identify human populations at risk of disease. However, these models rely on coarse resolutions of environmental data that may not accurately represent the climatic profile experienced by mosquitoes in the field, particularly in climatically heterogeneous urban areas. In this study, we pair field surveys of larval and adult Ae. albopictus mosquitoes with site-specific microclimate data across a range of land use types to investigate the relationships between microclimate, density of larval habitat, and adult mosquito abundance and determine whether these relationships change across an urban gradient. We find no evidence for a difference in larval habitat density or adult abundance between rural, suburban, and urban land classes. Adult abundance increases with increasing larval habitat density, which itself is dependent on microclimate. Adult abundance is strongly explained by microclimate variables, demonstrating that theoretically derived, laboratory-parameterized relationships in ectotherm physiology apply to the field. Our results support the continued use of temperature-dependent models to predict Ae. albopictus abundance in urban areas.

Michelle V. Evans, Carl W. Hintz, Lindsey Jones, Justine Shiau, Nicole Solano, John M. Drake and Courtney C. Murdock. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2019 Jun 10. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.19-0220

Polydnaviruses: Evolution and Function

Polydnaviruses (PDVs) were originally viewed as large DNA viruses that are beneficial symbionts of parasitoid wasps. Two groups of PDVs were also recognized: bracoviruses (BVs), which are associated with wasps in the family Braconidae, and ichnoviruses (IVs), which are associated with wasps in the family Ichneumonidae. Results to date indicate that BVs are endogenous virus elements (EVEs) that evolved from an ancient betanudivirus. IVs are also likely EVEs but are unrelated to BVs. BVs and IVs are very unusual relative to most known EVEs because they retain many viral functions that benefit wasps in parasitizing hosts. However, BVs and IVs cannot be considered beneficial symbionts because all components of their genomes are fixed in wasps. Recent studies indicate that other nudiviruses have endogenized in insects. Each exhibits a different functional fate from BVs but shares certain architectural features. We discuss options for classifying BVs and other endogenized nudiviruses. We also discuss future directions.

Michael R. Strand and Gaelen R. Burke. 2019. Curr Issues Mol Biol.;34:163-182. doi: 10.21775/cimb.034.163.

An ortholog of Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT) plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the endolysosomal system in Toxoplasma gondii to facilitate host invasion

Toxoplasma gondii is an apicomplexan parasite with the ability to use foodborne, zoonotic, and congenital routes of transmission that causes severe disease in immunocompromised patients. The parasites harbor a lysosome-like organelle, termed the “Vacuolar Compartment/Plant-Like Vacuole” (VAC/PLV), which plays an important role in maintaining the lytic cycle and virulence of Tgondii. The VAC supplies proteolytic enzymes that contribute to the maturation of invasion effectors and that digest autophagosomes and endocytosed host proteins. Previous work identified a Tgondii ortholog of the Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT) that localized to the VAC. Here, we show that TgCRT is a membrane transporter that is functionally similar to PfCRT. We also genetically ablate TgCRT and reveal that the TgCRT protein plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the parasite’s endolysosomal system by controlling morphology of the VAC. When TgCRT is absent, the VAC dramatically increases in volume by ~15-fold and overlaps with adjacent endosome-like compartments. Presumably to reduce aberrant swelling, transcription and translation of endolysosomal proteases are decreased in ΔTgCRT parasites. Expression of subtilisin protease 1 is significantly reduced, which impedes trimming of microneme proteins, and significantly decreases parasite invasion. Chemical or genetic inhibition of proteolysis within the VAC reverses these effects, reducing VAC size and partially restoring integrity of the endolysosomal system, microneme protein trimming, and invasion. Taken together, these findings reveal for the first time a physiological role of TgCRT in substrate transport that impacts VAC volume and the integrity of the endolysosomal system in Tgondii.

L. Brock Thornton, Paige Teehan, Katherine Floyd , Christian Cochrane , Amy Bergmann , Bryce Riegel, Andrew J. Stasic, Manlio Di Cristina, Silvia N. J. Moreno, Paul D. Roepe, Zhicheng Dou. 2019. PLoS Pathog.; 15(6):e1007775. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007775. eCollection 2019 Jun

Composition of the gut microbiota transcends genetic determinants of malaria infection severity and influences pregnancy outcome


Malaria infection in pregnancy is a major cause of maternal and foetal morbidity and mortality worldwide. Mouse models for gestational malaria allow for the exploration of the mechanisms linking maternal malaria infection and poor pregnancy outcomes in a tractable model system. The composition of the gut microbiota has been shown to influence susceptibility to malaria infection in inbred virgin mice. In this study, we explore the ability of the gut microbiota to modulate malaria infection severity in pregnant outbred Swiss Webster mice.


In Swiss Webster mice, the composition of the gut microbiota was altered by disrupting the native gut microbes through broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment, followed by the administration of a faecal microbiota transplant derived from mice possessing gut microbes reported previously to confer susceptibility or resistance to malaria. Female mice were infected with P. chabaudi chabaudi AS in early gestation, and the progression of infection and pregnancy were tracked throughout gestation. To assess the impact of maternal infection on foetal outcomes, dams were sacrificed at term to assess foetal size and viability. Alternatively, pups were delivered by caesarean section and fostered to assess neonatal survival and pre-weaning growth in the absence of maternal morbidity. A group of dams was also euthanized at mid-gestation to assess infection and pregnancy outcomes.


Susceptibility to infection varied significantly as a function of source of transplanted gut microbes. Parasite burden was negatively correlated with the abundance of five specific OTUs, including Akkermansia muciniphila and OTUs classified as AllobaculumLactobacillus, and S24-7 species. Reduced parasite burden was associated with reduced maternal morbidity and improved pregnancy outcomes. Pups produced by dams with high parasite burdens displayed a significant reduction in survival in the first days of life relative to those from malaria-resistant dams when placed with foster dams. At midgestation, plasma cytokine levels were similar across all groups, but expression of IFNγ in the conceptus was elevated in infected dams, and IL-10 only in susceptible dams. In the latter, transcriptional and microscopic evidence of monocytic infiltration was observed with high density infection; likewise, accumulation of malaria haemozoin was enhanced in this group. These responses, combined with reduced vascularization of the placenta in this group, may contribute to poor pregnancy outcomes. Thus, high maternal parasite burden and associated maternal responses, potentially dictated by the gut microbial community, negatively impacts term foetal health and survival in the early postnatal period.


The composition of the gut microbiota in Plasmodium chabaudi chabaudi AS-infected pregnant Swiss Webster mice transcends the outbred genetics of the Swiss Webster mouse stock as a determinant of malaria infection severity, subsequently influencing pregnancy outcomes in malaria-exposed progeny.

Catherine D. Morffy Smith, Minghao Gong, Alicer K. Andrew, Brittany N. Russ, Yong Ge, Mojgan Zadeh, Caitlin A. Cooper, Mansour Mohamadzadeh, Julie M. Moore. 2019. EBioMedicine.; pii: S2352-3964(19)30360-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.05.052.

Blood feeding activates the vitellogenic stage of oogenesis in the mosquito Aedes aegypti through inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3 by the insulin and TOR pathways

Most mosquitoes, including Aedes aegypti, only produce eggs after blood feeding on a vertebrate host. Oogenesis in A. aegypti consists of a pre-vitellogenic stage before blood feeding and a vitellogenic stage after blood feeding. Primary egg chambers remain developmentally arrested during the pre-vitellogenic stage but complete oogenesis to form mature eggs during the vitellogenic stage. In contrast, the signaling factors that maintain primary egg chambers in pre-vitellogenic arrest or that activate vitellogenic growth are largely unclear. Prior studies showed that A. aegypti females release insulin-like peptide 3 (ILP3) and ovary ecdysteroidogenic hormone (OEH) from brain neurosecretory cells after blood feeding. Here, we report that primary egg chambers exit pre-vitellogenic arrest by 8 h post-blood meal as evidenced by proliferation of follicle cells, endoreplication of nurse cells, and formation of cytoophidia. Ex vivo assays showed that ILP3 and OEH stimulate primary egg chambers to exit pre-vitellogenic arrest in the presence of nutrients but not in their absence. Characterization of associated pathways indicated that activation of insulin/insulin growth factor signaling (IIS) by ILP3 or OEH inactivated glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) via phosphorylation by phosphorylated Akt. GSK3 inactivation correlated with accumulation of the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor Max and primary egg chambers exiting pre-vitellogenic arrest. Direct inhibition of GSK3 by CHIR-99021 also stimulated Myc/Max accumulation and primary egg chambers exiting pre-vitellogenic arrest. Collectively, our results identify GSK3 as a key factor in regulating the pre- and vitellogenic stages of oogenesis in A. aegypti.

Luca Valzania, Melissa T. Mattee, Michael R. Strand, Mark R. Brown. 2019. Dev Biol.; pii: S0012-1606(19)30272-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2019.05.011

Bacteriophage acquisition restores protective mutualism

Insects are frequently infected with inherited facultative symbionts known to provide a range of conditionally beneficial services, including host protection. Pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum) often harbour the bacterium Hamiltonella defensa, which together with its associated bacteriophage A. pisum secondary endosymbiont (APSE) confer protection against an important natural enemy, the parasitic wasp Aphidius ervi. Previous studies showed that spontaneous loss of phage APSE resulted in the complete loss of the protective phenotype. Here, we demonstrate that APSEs can be experimentally transferred into phage-free (i.e. non-protecting) Hamiltonella strains. Unexpectedly, trials using injections of phage particles alone failed, with successful transfer occurring only when APSE and Hamiltonella were simultaneously injected. After transfer, stable establishment of APSE fully restored anti-parasitoid defenses. Thus, phages associated with heritable bacterial symbionts can move horizontally among symbiont strains facilitating the rapid transfer of ecologically important traits although natural barriers may preclude regular exchange.

Nicole L. Lynn-Bell, Michael R. Strand, Kerry M. Oliver. 2019. Microbiology.; doi: 10.1099/mic.0.000816.

The acidocalcisome inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor of Trypanosoma brucei is stimulated by luminal polyphosphate hydrolysis products

Acidocalcisomes are acidic calcium stores rich in polyphosphate (polyP) and are present in trypanosomes and also in a diverse range of other organisms. Ca2+ is released from these organelles through a channel, inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor (TbIP3R), which is essential for growth and infectivity of the parasite Trypanosoma brucei. However, the mechanism by which TbIP3R controls Ca2+ release is unclear. In this work, we expressed TbIP3R in a chicken B lymphocyte cell line in which the genes for all three vertebrate IP3Rs were stably ablated (DT40-3KO). We show that IP3-mediated Ca2+ release depends on Ca2+ but not on ATP concentration and is inhibited by heparin, caffeine, and 2-aminomethoxydiphenyl borate (2-APB). Excised patch-clamp recordings from nuclear membranes of DT40 cells expressing only TbIP3R disclosed that luminal inorganic orthophosphate (Pi) or pyrophosphate (PPi), and neutral or alkaline pH can stimulate IP3-generated currents. In contrast, polyP or acidic pH did not induce these currents, and nuclear membranes obtained from cells expressing rat IP3R were unresponsive to polyP or its hydrolysis products. Our results are consistent with the notion that polyP hydrolysis products within acidocalcisomes or alkalinization of their luminal pH activate TbIP3R and Ca2+ release. We conclude that TbIP3R is well adapted to its role as the major Ca2+ release channel of acidocaclcisomes in T. brucei.

Evgeniy Potapenko, Núria W Negrão, Guozhong Huang and Roberto Docampo. 2019. J Biol Chem.; pii: jbc.RA119.007906. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.007906

Nucleocytoplasmic O-glycosylation in protists

O-Glycosylation is an increasingly recognized modification of intracellular proteins in all kingdoms of life, and its occurrence in protists has been investigated to understand its evolution and its roles in the virulence of unicellular pathogens. We focus here on two kinds of glycoregulation found in unicellular eukaryotes: one is a simple O-fucose modification of dozens if not hundreds of Ser/Thr-rich proteins, and the other a complex pentasaccharide devoted to a single protein associated with oxygen sensing and the assembly of polyubiquitin chains. These modifications are not required for life but contingently modulate biological processes in the social amoeba Dictyostelium and the human pathogen Toxoplasma gondii, and likely occur in diverse unicellular protists. O-Glycosylation that is co-localized in the cytoplasm allows for glycoregulation over the entire life of the protein, contrary to the secretory pathway where glycosylation usually occurs before its delivery to its site of function. Here, we interpret cellular roles of nucleocytoplasmic glycans in terms of current evidence for their effects on the conformation and dynamics of protist proteins, to serve as a guide for future studies to examine their broader significance.

West CM, Kim HW. 2019. Curr Opin Struct Biol.; 56:204-212. doi: 10.1016/

The Vacuolar Zinc Transporter TgZnT Protects Toxoplasma gondii from Zinc Toxicity

Zinc (Zn2+) is the most abundant biological metal ion aside from iron and is an essential element in numerous biological systems, acting as a cofactor for a large number of enzymes and regulatory proteins. Zn2+ must be tightly regulated, as both the deficiency and overabundance of intracellular free Zn2+ are harmful to cells. Zn2+ transporters (ZnTs) play important functions in cells by reducing intracellular Zn2+ levels by transporting the ion out of the cytoplasm. We characterized a Toxoplasma gondii gene (TgGT1_251630, TgZnT), which is annotated as the only ZnT family Zn2+ transporter in T. gondii. TgZnT localizes to novel vesicles that fuse with the plant-like vacuole (PLV), an endosome-like organelle. Mutant parasites lacking TgZnT exhibit reduced viability in in vitro assays. This phenotype was exacerbated by increasing zinc concentrations in the extracellular media and was rescued by media with reduced zinc. Heterologous expression of TgZnT in a Zn2+-sensitive Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strain partially restored growth in media with higher Zn2+ concentrations. These results suggest that TgZnT transports Zn2+ into the PLV and plays an important role in the Zn2+tolerance of T. gondii extracellular tachyzoites.

IMPORTANCE Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular pathogen of human and animals. T. gondii pathogenesis is associated with its lytic cycle, which involves invasion, replication, egress out of the host cell, and invasion of a new one. T. gondii must be able to tolerate abrupt changes in the composition of the surrounding milieu as it progresses through its lytic cycle. We report the characterization of a Zn2+ transporter of T. gondii (TgZnT) that is important for parasite growth. TgZnT restored Zn2+ tolerance in yeast mutants that were unable to grow in media with high concentrations of Zn2+. We propose that TgZnT plays a role in Zn2+ homeostasis during the T. gondii lytic cycle.

Nathan M. Chasen, Andrew J. Stasic, Beejan Asady, Isabelle Coppens, Silvia N. J. Moreno. 2019. mSphere.; 4(3). pii: e00086-19. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00086-19.

Refugia and anthelmintic resistance: Concepts and challenges

Anthelmintic resistance is a threat to global food security. In order to alleviate the selection pressure for resistance and maintain drug efficacy, management strategies increasingly aim to preserve a proportion of the parasite population in ‘refugia’, unexposed to treatment. While persuasive in its logic, and widely advocated as best practice, evidence for the ability of refugia-based approaches to slow the development of drug resistance in parasitic helminths is currently limited. Moreover, the conditions needed for refugia to work, or how transferable those are between parasite-host systems, are not known. This review, born of an international workshop, seeks to deconstruct the concept of refugia and examine its assumptions and applicability in different situations. We conclude that factors potentially important to refugia, such as the fitness cost of drug resistance, the degree of mixing between parasite sub-populations selected through treatment or not, and the impact of parasite life-history, genetics and environment on the population dynamics of resistance, vary widely between systems. The success of attempts to generate refugia to limit anthelmintic drug resistance are therefore likely to be highly dependent on the system in hand. Additional research is needed on the concept of refugia and the underlying principles for its application across systems, as well as empirical studies within systems that prove and optimise its usefulness.

Jane E. Hodgkinson, Ray M. Kaplan, Fiona Kenyon, Eric R. Morgan, Andrew W. Park, Steve Paterson, Simon A. Babayan, Nicola J. Beesley, Collette Britton, Umer Chaudhry, Stephen R. Doyle, Vanessa O. Ezenwa, Andy Fenton, Sue B. Howell, Roz Laing, Barbara K. Mable, Louise Matthews, Jennifer McIntyre, Catherine E. Milne, Thomas A. Morrison, Jamie C. Prentice, Neil D. Sargison, Diana J.L. Williams, Adrian J. Wolstenholme, Eileen Devaney. 2019. Int J Parasitol Drugs Drug Resist.; doi: 10.1016/j.ijpddr.2019.05.001.