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Discovery, Characterization, and Functional Analysis of micro RNAs in Culicidae
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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are non-coding RNAs that often play a fundamental role in gene regulation. Currently, hundreds to over a thousand miRNAs are predicted to be present in many eukaryote species, with many to be discovered; the functions of most are unknown. While much attention has gone towards model organisms, a much greater depth of understanding remains to be gained for the miRNAs of many organisms directly important to humans. There are few verified miRNAs for any mosquito species, despite the role of mosquitoes in many of humanity’s worst diseases. Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti, carriers of malaria and dengue, respectively, are responsible for over a million deaths a year. To date, there are sixty-six microRNAs in An. gambiae in miRBase, a central repository for miRNA sequences. Many of these are based on homology to primarily Drosophila miRNAs. While sequence conservation suggests an important function for these miRNAs, expression has not been experimentally verified for most mosquito miRNAs. Using small RNA cloning and northern blots, I discovered and analyzed 27 different microRNAs in aged female An. stephensi mosquitoes, the age group responsible for transmission of malarial parasites. Three of these miRNAs are only found in mosquitoes (miR-1889, -1890, and –1891). Cloning and northern analysis revealed an abundance of a miRNA that is linked to longevity in flies, miR-14, across different life stages of mosquitoes. It was also shown that miR-989 was expressed almost exclusively in the adult ovary and its expression fluctuated in response to bloodfeeding, suggesting a possible role in reproduction, an area of great importance to controlling mosquito populations. Building upon the above cloning experiment, a later high-throughput sequencing effort uncovered 98 miRNA precursors from Ae. aegypti. There are a total of 13 novel miRNAs that have not been found in other organisms by bioinformatic predictions or experiments. These “mosquito-specific” miRNAs may play a role in processes such as blood-feeding or vector-host interactions. A detailed examination of the expression of eight of these miRNAs was conducted in An. gambiae, An. stephensi, Ae. aegypti, and T. amboinensis to determine their expression profile, conservation, and provide hints to their function. My work revealed conserved and sometime stage-specific expression profiles of some of the mosquito-specific miRNAs. I also provided evidence for three lineage-specific miRNAs that may shed light on the divergence of different mosquito lineages. Extending the finding that miR-989 may be involved in mosquito reproduction, we conducted a detailed analysis of its evolution, expression, possible targets and regulation. miR-989 is conserved in holometabolous insects. miR-989 expression in female An. stephensi and Ae. aegypti dramatically rises following pupal emergence until strong signal is observed, until a blood meal is taken. Expression remains quite strong then begins a steep decline in expression at 32-40 hours post blood meal (PBM), and even by 96 hours PBM, remains weak. Bioinformatic predictions of miR-989 targets coupled with a PCR-based approach uncovered three potential target leads, though preliminary results were artifacts. Although the miR-989 post-emergence expression profile correlates with the expression of Juvenile Hormone, a key reproductive hormone in mosquitoes, no observable induction occurred when abdominal ligation samples were administered methoprene, a JH analog. However, methoprene impacted a number of other miRNAs, with up to a 3.87 fold induction (miR-1891), and a 3.15 fold suppression (miR-9a) of signal. Subsequent northern analysis provided visual confirmation of observable fold changes for miR-1891 and miR-9a, but not for miRNAs that showed changes below two fold. This analysis provides a foundation to study Juvenile Hormone regulation of miRNAs in mosquitoes. In summary, we have expanded the understanding of microRNAs in mosquitoes. An improved understanding of mosquito physiology can assist in efforts to control mosquito-borne infectious diseases.
- Doctoral Dissertations