Background: Arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) can persistently infect and cause limited damage to mosquito vectors. RNA interference (RNAi) is a mosquito antiviral response important in restricting RNA virus replication and has been shown to be active against some arboviruses. The goal of this study was to use a recombinant Sindbis virus (SINV; family Togaviridae; genus Alphavirus) that expresses B2 protein of Flock House virus (FHV; family Nodaviridae; genus Alphanodavirus), a protein that inhibits RNAi, to determine the effects of linking arbovirus infection with RNAi inhibition.
Results: B2 protein expression from SINV (TE/3'2J) inhibited the accumulation of non-specific small RNAs in Aedes aegypti mosquito cell culture and virus-specific small RNAs both in infected cell culture and Ae. aegypti mosquitoes. More viral genomic and subgenomic RNA accumulated in cells and mosquitoes infected with TE/3'2J virus expressing B2 (TE/3'2J/B2) compared to TE/3'2J and TE/3'2J virus expressing GFP. TE/3'2J/B2 exhibited increased infection rates, dissemination rates, and infectious virus titers in mosquitoes following oral bloodmeal. Following infectious oral bloodmeal, significantly more mosquitoes died when TE/3'2J/B2 was ingested. The virus was 100% lethal following intrathoracic inoculation of multiple mosquito species and lethality was dose-dependent in Ae. aegypti.
Conclusion: We show that RNAi is active in Ae. aegypti cell culture and that B2 protein inhibits RNAi in mosquito cells when expressed by a recombinant SINV. Also, SINV more efficiently replicates in mosquito cells when RNAi is inhibited. Finally, TE/3'2J/B2 kills mosquitoes in a dose-dependent manner independent of infection route and mosquito species.