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Med Vet Entomol. 2009 Sep;23(3):195-201. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2915.2009.00799.x.

Nutritional stress affects the tsetse fly's immune gene expression.

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Department of Animal Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium.


Tsetse-transmitted trypanosomiasis poses a serious threat to human and animal health in sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) in a natural population will not develop a mature infection of either Trypanosoma congolense or Trypanosoma brucei sp. because of refractoriness, a phenomenon that is affected by different factors, including the tsetse fly's immune defence. Starvation of tsetse flies significantly increases their susceptibility to the establishment of a trypanosome infection. This paper reports the effects of nutritional stress (starvation) on (a) uninduced baseline levels of gene expression of the antimicrobial peptides attacin, defensin and cecropin in the tsetse fly, and (b) levels of expression induced in response to bacterial (Escherichia coli) or trypanosomal challenge. In newly emerged, unfed tsetse flies, starvation significantly lowers baseline levels of antimicrobial peptide gene expression, especially for attacin and cecropin. In response to trypanosome challenge, only non-starved older flies showed a significant increase in antimicrobial peptide gene expression within 5 days of ingestion of a trypanosome-containing bloodmeal, especially with T. brucei bloodstream forms. These data suggest that a decreased expression of immune genes in newly hatched flies or a lack of immune responsiveness to trypanosomes in older flies, both occurring as a result of fly starvation, may be among the factors contributing to the increased susceptibility of nutritionally stressed tsetse flies to trypanosome infection.

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