Genetic factors affecting the RNA interference pathway of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes
Haac, Mary Etna Richter
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Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the vectors of many significant arboviruses that cause tremendous social and economic impact. RNA interference (RNAi) plays a crucial role in the vector competence of mosquitoes and is often targeted in studies involving mosquito innate immunity, genetics-based vector control strategies, and the development of viral-resistant transgenic mosquitoes. In general, RNA interference is induced by double stranded RNA (dsRNA) and results in the inhibition of cognate gene expression. There are several different RNA interference pathways, with distinct functions and mechanisms. The micro RNA pathway is important for endogenous gene regulation and development. The endogenous small interfering RNA (endo-siRNA) pathway functions in gene regulation and protection of the genome from the deleterious effects of transposable elements. The exogenous siRNA (exosiRNA) pathway is a major contributor to mosquito innate immunity and vector competence by limiting viral replication during infection. Lastly, the piwi RNA (piRNA) pathway primarily functions in protecting the genome from the deleterious effects of transposable elements. While the structure and function of many genes involved in Drosophila RNAi have been characterized, the corresponding mosquito orthologs have only been peripherally described or remain unknown. Thus, the overall purpose of this study is to improve the understanding of mosquito RNAi mechanisms by identifying and analyzing genetic factors involved in the various pathways. This research especially focuses on characterizing and analyzing putative doubleiii stranded RNA binding proteins (dsRBPs) important to the function of the RNAi initiator and effector complexes. Two genes, r2d2 and r3d1 are orthologs of Drosophila genes known to have important roles in the RNAi initiator complex. A third member of the same family, which we refer to as extra loquacious (exloqs), appears to have no known orthologs outside of the Aedes genus. Structural characterization of these genes included identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), novel exons and alternative splice variants. RT-PCR assays were utilized to examine differential expression of all three genes in specific tissues and developmental stages. Sub-cellular fractionation assays enabled intracellular localization of the RNAi proteins within Ae. aegypti cells. Co-immunoprecipitation of tagged dsRBPs revealed protein-protein interactions between specific dsRBPs and known RNAi factors. In addition, an exo-siRNA sensor was designed and tested in-vivo and in-vitro with the purpose of facilitating the identification of novel genetic factors involved in this anti-viral pathway. Lastly, TALENbased gene disruption was successfully employed to knockout the exloqs gene in Ae. aegypti mosquitoes, enabling further analysis into the function of this gene. The research described in this document provides further insight into mosquito innate immunity and gene regulation, which is important to the advancement of genetics-based vector control strategies.
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