In nature, larvae of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are commonly infected by parasitoid wasps. Following infection, flies mount an immune response termed cellular encapsulation in which fly immune cells form a multilayered capsule that covers and kills the wasp egg. Parasitoids have thus evolved virulence factors to suppress cellular encapsulation. To uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying the antiwasp response, we and others have begun identifying and functionally characterizing these virulence factors. Our recent work on the Drosophila parasitoid Ganaspis sp.1 has demonstrated that a virulence factor encoding a SERCA-type calcium pump plays an important role in Ganaspis sp.1 virulence. This venom SERCA antagonizes fly immune cell calcium signaling and thereby prevents the activation of the encapsulation response. In this way, the study of wasp virulence factors has revealed a novel aspect of fly immunity, namely a role for calcium signaling in fly immune cell activation, which is conserved with human immunity, again illustrating the marked conservation between fly and mammalian immune responses. Our findings demonstrate that the cellular encapsulation response can serve as a model of immune cell function and can also provide valuable insight into basic cell biological processes.
Keywords: Drosophila; Ganaspis; SERCA; calcium; encapsulation; immunity; parasitoid.