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Receptor holds the key to mosquito immune response

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have identified a gene in the Anopheles gambiae mosquito's DNA that is central to the insect's ability to defend against infectious pathogens, including Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria in humans. Potentially, a mosquito with an enhanced capacity to recognize and kill Plasmodium would be unable to transmit malaria. The researchers' findings appear in the June 20, 2006, edition of the journal PLoS Biology.

Insects do not have antibodies, which are essential for pathogen recognition in humans. Instead, insects rely on a limited number of genes coding for adhesive proteins (pattern-recognition receptors) that can adhere to molecular patterns on a pathogen's surface.

"Each pathogen has its own unique combination of surface patterns. The immune systems of the mosquito and other insects primarily rely on recognizing the pattern of a specific pathogen to activate an immune response that kills the invader," explained George Dimopoulos, PhD, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the Bloomberg School's Malaria Research Institute. The AgDscam gene--short for Anopheles gambiae Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule gene--is an essential factor of the mosquito's immune system and can produce thousands of receptors with different pathogen-binding specificities. AgDscam appears to be capable of recognizing a broad range of different pathogens, and can thereby carry out a function for which a large number of genes would have been needed. Studies previously conducted by other researchers identified an immunity-related function of the Dscam gene in fruit flies.

The researchers found that when the AgDscam gene was deactivated, or "silenced", the mosquitoes died at a greater rate from bacterial infections. They also found that the numbers of Plasmodium increased 65 percent in the gut of mosquitoes with the silenced gene. The findings suggest that better knowledge of how
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Contact: Tim Parsons
paffairs@jhsph.edu
410-955-6878
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
19-Jun-2006


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