Host-derived extracellular nucleic acids enhance innate immune responses, induce coagulation, and prolong survival upon infection in insects

J Immunol. 2008 Aug 15;181(4):2705-12. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.181.4.2705.


Extracellular nucleic acids play important roles in human immunity and hemostasis by inducing IFN production, entrapping pathogens in neutrophil extracellular traps, and providing procoagulant cofactor templates for induced contact activation during mammalian blood clotting. In this study, we investigated the functions of extracellular RNA and DNA in innate immunity and hemolymph coagulation in insects using the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella a reliable model host for many insect and human pathogens. We determined that coinjection of purified Galleria-derived nucleic acids with heat-killed bacteria synergistically increases systemic expression of antimicrobial peptides and leads to the depletion of immune-competent hemocytes indicating cellular immune stimulation. These activities were abolished when nucleic acids had been degraded by nucleic acid hydrolyzing enzymes prior to injection. Furthermore, we found that nucleic acids induce insect hemolymph coagulation in a similar way as LPS. Proteomic analyses revealed specific RNA-binding proteins in the hemolymph, including apolipoproteins, as potential mediators of the immune response and hemolymph clotting. Microscopic ex vivo analyses of Galleria hemolymph clotting reactions revealed that oenocytoids (5-10% of total hemocytes) represent a source of endogenously derived extracellular nucleic acids. Finally, using the entomopathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens as an infective agent and Galleria caterpillars as hosts, we demonstrated that injection of purified nucleic acids along with P. luminescens significantly prolongs survival of infected larvae. Our results lend some credit to our hypothesis that host-derived nucleic acids have independently been co-opted in innate immunity of both mammals and insects, but exert comparable roles in entrapping pathogens and enhancing innate immune responses.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins / physiology
  • DNA / administration & dosage*
  • Extracellular Fluid / immunology
  • Extracellular Fluid / microbiology
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / prevention & control
  • Hemolymph / immunology*
  • Hemolymph / microbiology
  • Hemostasis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular* / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate* / genetics
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / immunology
  • Larva / microbiology
  • Moths / growth & development*
  • Moths / immunology*
  • Moths / microbiology
  • Photorhabdus / genetics
  • Photorhabdus / immunology*
  • Photorhabdus / pathogenicity
  • Proteome / immunology
  • RNA / administration & dosage*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / physiology


  • Apolipoproteins
  • Proteome
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • RNA
  • DNA