Induction of RNA interference to block Zika virus replication and transmission in the mosquito Aedes aegypti.


Colorado State, University, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory (AIDL), Fort Collins, CO, 80523, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, serves as the primary vector for epidemic transmission of yellow fever, dengue, Zika (ZIKV), and chikungunya viruses to humans. Control of Ae. aegypti is currently limited to insecticide applications and larval habitat management; however, to combat growing challenges with insecticide resistance, novel genetic approaches for vector population reduction or transmission interruption are being aggressively pursued. The objectives of this study were to assess the ability of the Ae. aegypti antiviral exogenous-small interfering RNA (exo-siRNA) response to inhibit ZIKV infection and transmission, and to identify the optimal RNA interference (RNAi) target region in the ZIKV genome. We accomplished these objectives by in vitro transcription of five long double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) from the genome region spanning the NS2B-NS3-NS4A genes, which were the most highly conserved among ZIKV RNA sequences representing both East and West African and Asian-American clades, and evaluation of the ability of these dsRNAs to trigger an effective antiviral exo-siRNA response after intrathoracic injection into Ae. aegypti. In a pilot study, five ZIKV dsRNAs were tested by intrathoracic inoculation of 250 ng dsRNA into groups of approximately 5-day-old mosquitoes. Three days post-inoculation, mosquitoes were provided an infectious blood-meal containing ZIKV strain PRVABC59 (Puerto Rico), MR766 (Uganda), or 41525 (Senegal). On days 7 and 14 post-infection individual whole mosquito bodies were assessed for ZIKV infectious titer by plaque assays. Based on the results of this initial assessment, three dsRNAs were selected for further evaluation of viral loads of matched body and saliva expectorants using a standardized infectious dose of 1 × 107 PFU/mL of each ZIKV strain. Fourteen days post-exposure to ZIKV, paired saliva and carcass samples were harvested from individual mosquitoes and assessed for ZIKV RNA load by qRT-PCR. Injection of each of the three dsRNAs resulted in significant inhibition of replication of all three strains of ZIKV in mosquito bodies and saliva. This study lays critical groundwork for pursuing ZIKV transmission-blocking strategies that exploit the Ae. aegypti exo-siRNA response for arbovirus suppression in natural populations.