Insect cellular immune responses accompany cytoskeletal rearrangement of hemocytes to exhibit filopodial and pseudopodial extension of their cytoplasm. Small G proteins are postulated to be implicated in the hemocyte cellular processes to perform phagocytosis, nodulation, and encapsulation behaviors. A small G protein ras gene (Se-Ras) was cloned from cDNAs prepared from hemocytes of the beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua. The open reading frame of Se-Ras encoded 179 amino acids with a predicted molecular weight of 20.0kDa, in which 114 residues at amino terminus were predicted to be a GTP binding domain. It showed high sequence similarities (86.1-92.8%) with known ras genes in other insects. Se-Ras was constitutively expressed in all developmental stages from egg to adult without any significant change in expression levels in response to bacterial challenge. A specific double strand RNA (dsRNA) could knockdown its expression in the hemocytes after 48h post-injection. While the RNA interference (RNAi) did not show any change in total or differential hemocyte counts, it impaired hemocyte behaviors. The RNAi of Se-Ras significantly suppressed hemocyte spreading, cytoskeleton extension, and nodulation behaviors in response to bacterial challenge. Release of prophenoloxidase from oenocytoids was significantly inhibited by the RNAi, which resulted in significant suppression in PO activation in response to an inducer, PGE(2). These results suggest that Se-Ras is implicated in mediating cellular processes of S. exigua hemocytes. This is the first report of Ras role in insect cellular immune response.
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