Characterizing the antiviral immune response in the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti

Arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) are viruses transmitted to plants and animals by insect vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks. In human and animal populations around the world arboviruses such as West Nile virus continue to cause significant morbidity and mortality. To date, research efforts around these viral diseases have focused almost entirely on humans. There is however another important aspect to the disease dynamics, which has not been addressed, and that is the effect of these viruses on the insects that transmit them. The insect immune system shares many features with the human immune system yet very little is known about how insects regulate viral infections. Research has shown that arboviruses somehow evade the insect’s immune system yet are capable of transmitting the viruses to other hosts. Dawn Cooper is examining what factors viruses use to develop in insect vectors and the factors that insects use to kill viruses. Her research focuses on characterizing the immune responses expressed in response to the virus infection of Aedes aegypti, a major vector of arboviruses. Ultimately information gained through this study will identify the novel fighting components of the insect immune response which may be exploited to reduce transmission or develop drugs to treat human infections.