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Science Capsule: How Mosquitoes Target their Human Hosts

The NIH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to combat the Zika virus, which has achieved pandemic status in South American and the Caribbean. According to the CDC, people become infected with the Zika virus primarily through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Zika is spread by the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. The NIDCD supports research projects that focus on mosquitoes because the insects use olfactory cues to target humans and other hosts.

If we determine how certain cues activate mosquito olfactory receptors, we may be able to develop compounds or other methods to block or interfere with this activation and prevent the mosquitoes from detecting humans. An NIDCD-supported scientist found that the domestic form of the A. aegypti mosquito preferentially seeks out human blood over animal blood due to a genetic tweak that makes it more sensitive to human odor.191 Another NIDCD-supported scientist reports that A. aegypti detect plumes of human CO2 upstream and then use visual cues to zero in on human targets.192 Still another group is working to determine the molecular mechanisms by which mosquitoes and other insects seek out moist environments likely to contain human hosts. Scientists now hope to exploit these details to interfere with the insects’ ability to locate human targets.

Another approach to preventing mosquitoes from seeking human hosts is to activate a pathway that prevents mosquitoes from seeking a blood meal. One project in this area is studying the molecules and receptors that are responsible for keeping female mosquitoes from seeking a blood meal for 3 days after a previous meal. If we could simulate these molecule/receptor interactions, we could trick the mosquitoes’ systems into thinking they had already had a meal.

An emergency effort is in progress to assemble the genomic sequence of the A. aegypti mosquito in a matter of months. The goal is to use the genomic information to develop new ways to stop the insects from spreading disease. An NIDCD-supported investigator is leading a group of scientists in this critical project.

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Last Updated Date: 
January 27, 2017