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J Virol. 2011 Feb;85(4):1517-27. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01112-10. Epub 2010 Dec 8.

Mosquito saliva causes enhancement of West Nile virus infection in mice.

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  • 1New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, Albany, New York 12201, USA.


West Nile virus (WNV) is transmitted to vertebrate hosts primarily by infected Culex mosquitoes. Transmission of arboviruses by the bite of infected mosquitoes can potentiate infection in hosts compared to viral infection by needle inoculation. Here we examined the effect of mosquito transmission on WNV infection and systematically investigated multiple factors that differ between mosquito infection and needle inoculation of WNV. We found that mice infected with WNV through the bite of a single infected Culex tarsalis mosquito exhibited 5- to 10-fold-higher viremia and tissue titers at 24 and 48 h postinoculation and faster neuroinvasion than mice given a median mosquito-inoculated dose of WNV (10(5) PFU) by needle. Mosquito-induced enhancement was not due to differences in inoculation location, because additional intravenous inoculation of WNV did not enhance viremia or tissue titers. Inoculation of WNV into a location where uninfected mosquitoes had fed resulted in enhanced viremia and tissue titers in mice similar to those in mice infected by a single infected mosquito bite, suggesting that differences in where virus is deposited in the skin and in the virus particle itself were not responsible for the enhanced early infection in mosquito-infected mice. In addition, inoculation of mice with WNV mixed with salivary gland extract (SGE) led to higher viremia, demonstrating that mosquito saliva is the major cause of mosquito-induced enhancement. Enhanced viremia was not observed when SGE was inoculated at a distal site, suggesting that SGE enhances WNV replication by exerting a local effect. Furthermore, enhancement of WNV infection still occurred in mice with antibodies against mosquito saliva. In conclusion, saliva from C. tarsalis is responsible for enhancement of early WNV infection in vertebrate hosts.

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