Innate Immune Responses Regulate Trypanosome Parasite Infection of the Tsetse Fly Glossina Morsitans Morsitans

Mol Microbiol. 2006 Jun;60(5):1194-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2006.05180.x.


Tsetse flies transmit the protozoan parasite African trypanosomes, the agents of human sleeping sickness in sub-Saharan Africa. Parasite transmission in the insect is restricted by a natural resistance phenomenon (refractoriness). Understanding the mechanism of parasite resistance is important as strengthening fly's response(s) via transgenic approaches can prevent parasite transmission and lead to the development of novel vector control strategies. Here, we investigated the role of one of the two major pathways regulating innate immunity in invertebrates, the immunodeficiency (Imd) pathway, for Glossina morsitans morsitans's natural defence against Trypanosoma brucei spp. infections. We determined the molecular structure of the Imd pathway transcriptional activator Relish (GmmRel), which shows high amino acid identity and structural similarity to its Drosophila homologue. Through a double-stranded RNA-based interference approach, we showed that the pathogen-induced expression profile of the antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) attacin and cecropin is under the regulation of GmmRel. Unexpectedly, the AMP diptericin appears to be constitutively expressed in tsetse independent of the presence of the Rel factor. Through GmmRel knock-down, we could successfully block the induction of attacin and cecropin expression in the immune responsive tissues fat body and proventriculus (cardia) following microbial challenge. The midgut and salivary gland trypanosome infection prevalence, as well as the intensity of midgut parasite infections were found to be significantly higher in flies when attacin and relish expression were knocked down. Our results provide the first direct evidence for the involvement of antimicrobial peptides in trypanosome transmission in tsetse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / genetics
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • RNA Interference
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / pathogenicity*
  • Tsetse Flies / anatomy & histology
  • Tsetse Flies / immunology*
  • Tsetse Flies / parasitology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Insect Proteins
  • Rel protein, Drosophila
  • Transcription Factors
  • attacin antibacterial protein, insect