The reality of the threat from vector-borne diseases has been recognized and the problem is prompting research scientists to take a strong interest. Most of these infections, classified as emerging or re-emerging diseases, are linked to ecosystem changes, climatic variations or pressure from human activities. Malaria, sleeping sickness and so on lead to the death of millions of people in the world. African countries are particularly strongly hit. The expansion of Dengue fever and the recent epidemics of Chikungunya and West Nile disease illustrate the trend.
The pathogens responsible for these diseases can be viruses, bacteria or protozoans which are passed on to humans by an arthropod vector, most often a dipteran insect. This becomes infected when it feeds, taking blood from an infected vertebrate host. The pathogenic agent finds conditions to reproduce and proliferate in the vectors body. In most cases, the parasite moves back into the vectors salivary glands in order to be transmitted to the human host when the insect bites again to take another blood meal. Morbidity among infected people is therefore associated with the degree of exposure of the subject to insect vector bites.
The vector saliva, which is adapted for blood feeds, plays a prime role in the transmission of the associated diseases. It contains numerous proteins, including immunogenic ones that can modulate or induce a human immune response. Working for the EpiVect programme initiated in 2003 (1), scientists from IRD research unit UR 024 studied this still little known response with the aim of identifying in the arthropod vector saliva the immunogenic proteins responsible. They called on immunological techniques to evaluate qualitatively and quantitatively, in the serum sampled from human populations living in transmission areas, the presence of antibodies targeting specifically these proteins contained in an extract of total saliva of the culprit vector.