The Mosquito Immunology group was established at Pirbright in 2018. We study the recognition of arthropod-borne (arbo)viruses by the immune system of their insect vectors and how this influences virus replication, dissemination, transmission. Further, we are interested in the characterisation of arboviral pathogenicity determinants and their evolution in invertebrate and vertebrate hosts.
We want to better understand the complex interactions between arboviruses and the immune system of mosquitoes and to identify viral and mosquito factors that govern how well arboviruses replicate and disseminate in their vectors and how efficiently they are transmitted to humans, livestock or wildlife. We study how arboviruses evolve in their hosts and how this influences pathogenicity and host range. Our aim is to use this knowledge to develop novel disease prevention and control strategies based on interrupting the viral life cycle at the stage of the mosquito host.
Rift Valley fever is an important viral zoonosis in Africa, which affects livestock and humans and can be fatal. Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV; Phenuiviridae, Phlebovirus) can be transmitted by a large number of mosquito species, which complicates risk assessment of the spread of RVFV into new areas, such as Europe. Due to both the variety of vectors and the paucity of genetic tools for their analysis, the interaction between the vector and RVFV remains poorly characterised. Our work focuses on mosquito immune responses to RVFV infection. In particular, we study:
- RNA interference and the role of small, non-coding RNAs in blocking replication of RVFV in mosquito cell lines and mosquitoes
- Classical immune signalling pathways
- Stress response and developmental signalling pathways that may play a role in the response to bunyaviral infections in mosquitoes
In addition, we want to characterise the function of RVFV proteins in mosquitoes and mammalian hosts in more detail.
RVFV is an emerging zoonotic mosquito-borne pathogen of high relevance for human and animal health, society and local economies. Due to the large variety of competent mosquito vector species combined with the expansion of mosquito habitats as a result of climate change and an increase in international travel and trade, there are concerns of RVFV spreading into new areas, such as Europe. A better understanding of the mechanisms that govern RVFV-vector interactions and determine the RVFV host range are a prerequisite for successful strategies of intervention in RVFV transmission by its mosquito vectors and the prevention of human and veterinary disease.