WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
WSU Insider
News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

WSU study shows insulin can increase mosquitoes’ immunity to West Nile virus

PULLMAN, Wash. — A discovery by a Washington State University-led research team has the potential to inhibit the spread of West Nile virus as well as Zika and dengue viruses.

In a study published today in the journal Cell Reports, researchers demonstrated that mammalian insulin activated an antiviral immunity pathway in mosquitoes, increasing the insects’ ability to suppress the viruses.

Mosquito bites are the most common way humans are infected with flaviviruses, a virus family that includes West Nile, dengue and Zika. In humans, both West Nile and dengue can result in severe illness, even death. Zika has been linked to birth defects when pregnant women are infected.

“It’s really important that we have some sort of protection against these diseases because currently, we don’t have any treatments. If we’re able to stop the infection at the level of the mosquito, then humans wouldn’t get the virus,” said Laura Ahlers, the study’s lead author and a recent Ph.D. graduate from WSU. Ahlers is now a post-doctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Working first with fruit flies, which have similar immune responses to mosquitoes, Ahlers and her colleagues identified an insulin-like receptor in the insects that, when activated, inhibits the replication of the West Nile virus in the flies. The researchers then elicited this same response in mosquitoes by feeding them blood containing elevated insulin. Subsequent tests showed activating this receptor was also effective in suppressing dengue and Zika in insect cells.

While it was already known that insulin boosts immune responses in mosquitoes, this is the first time insulin’s connection to a particular immune response pathway, called JAK/STAT, has been identified. It is a significant step toward the long-term goal of creating an intervention, said Alan Goodman, WSU assistant professor and the corresponding author on the paper.

Alan Goodman
Alan Goodman

“If we can activate this arm of immunity through the insulin receptor in the mosquito, we can reduce the overall viral load in the mosquito population,” Goodman said. “If the mosquitoes are carrying less virus when they bite you, they will transmit less of the virus, and there’s a better chance you won’t acquire the disease.”

Other authors on the paper included Clement Chow of University of Utah, Shirley Luckhart and Brandi Torrevillas of University of Idaho as well as WSU Ph.D. candidate Chasity Trammell and WSU undergraduates Grace Carrell and Sophie Mackinnon.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, a Poncin Fellowship, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and private donations to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine through the Stanley L. Adler Research Endowment Fund and Mary V. Schindler Equine Research Endowment.

 

Media Contacts:

Alan Goodman, WSU School of Molecular Biosciences, 509-335-0186, alan.goodman@wsu.edu
Sara Zaske, WSU News and Media Relations, 509-335-4846, sara.zaske@wsu.edu

Next Story

Celebrating first‑gen Cougs: WSU Pullman

In the days leading up to National First-Generation Day on Nov. 8, the WSU Insider is featuring first-generation students, faculty, and staff on each of the university’s campuses.

Recent News

Celebrating first‑gen Cougs: WSU Pullman

In the days leading up to National First-Generation Day on Nov. 8, the WSU Insider is featuring first-generation students, faculty, and staff on each of the university’s campuses.

Tracking a bacterial culprit in the case of the warty pumpkin

On a Halloween pumpkin, warts, and bumps have a certain spooky charm. But some unwanted bacteria open the door to infections that ruin this bright, seasonal fruit.

Trimble and WSU establish Trimble Technology Lab

The lab’s aim is to help the university produce “work‑ready, day‑one” graduates by providing training in the tools they’ll ultimately use in the office and field upon graduation.

Find More News

Subscribe for more updates