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J Insect Physiol. 2000 Jun 1;46(6):1041-1050.

Host castration by Aphidius ervi venom proteins.

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Dipartimento di Biologia, Difesa e Biotecnologie Agro-Forestali, via N. Sauro 85, I-85100, Potenza, Italy


The braconid Aphidius ervi Haliday (Hymenoptera, Braconidae) is an endophagous parasitoid of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris) (Homoptera, Aphididae). Parasitized host aphids show different degrees of castration, a response that is total when parasitoid oviposition takes place in first instar hosts. Deleterious effects on the host reproductive system are already evident by 24h following parasitization, before egg hatching. The effect of parasitoid venom on A. pisum ovaries has been studied by performing microinjections in non-parasitized host aphids and observing the cellular alterations of the apical germaria of ovarioles. Venom injection reproduced the same alterations observed in parasitized aphids, while injections of saline solution did not induce any detectable change. By 24h, the germarial cells of both venom-treated aphids and parasitized aphids showed the absence of the nucleolus and of electron-dense material around the nucleus, frequently referred to as "nuage material". By 48h more evident signs of degeneration were observed, suggesting the possible occurrence of apoptosis. The bioactive component of the venom was both heat- and protease-sensitive. The activity was found in purified fractions that were highly enriched in two proteins with an approximate molecular mass of 21kD and 36kD, respectively. These macromolecules are the most abundant components of A. ervi venom and, unlike many venom proteins of studied parasitic Hymenoptera, are not glycosylated and appear to be subunits of an oligomeric protein. The adaptive significance of host castration is discussed.

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