Imd pathway-specific immune assays reveal NF-κB stimulation by viral RNA PAMPs in Aedes aegypti Aag2 cells


The mosquito Aedes aegypti is a major vector for the arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever and Zika viruses. Vector immune responses pose a major barrier to arboviral transmission, and transgenic insects with altered immunity have been proposed as tools for reducing the global public health impact of arboviral diseases. However, a better understanding of virus-immune interactions is needed to progress the development of such transgenic insects. Although the NF-κB-regulated Toll and ‘immunodeficiency’ (Imd) pathways are increasingly thought to be antiviral, relevant pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) and pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) remain poorly characterised in A. aegypti.

Methodology/Principle findings

We developed novel RT-qPCR and luciferase reporter assays to measure induction of the Toll and Imd pathways in the commonly used A. aegypti-derived Aag2 cell line. We thus determined that the Toll pathway is not inducible by exogenous stimulation with bacterial, viral or fungal stimuli in Aag2 cells under our experimental conditions. We used our Imd pathway-specific assays to demonstrate that the viral dsRNA mimic poly(I:C) is sensed by the Imd pathway, likely through intracellular and extracellular PRRs. The Imd pathway was also induced during infection with the model insect-specific virus cricket paralysis virus (CrPV).


Our demonstration that a general PAMP shared by many arboviruses is sensed by the Imd pathway paves the way for future studies to determine how viral RNA is sensed by mosquito PRRs at a molecular level. Our data also suggest that studies measuring inducible immune pathway activation through antimicrobial peptide (AMP) expression in Aag2 cells should be interpreted cautiously given that the Toll pathway is not responsive under all experimental conditions. With no antiviral therapies and few effective vaccines available to treat arboviral diseases, our findings provide new insights relevant to the development of transgenic mosquitoes as a means of reducing arbovirus transmission.

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