Background: Pyrethroid resistance in the major malaria vector Anopheles funestus is rapidly expanding across Southern Africa. It remains unknown whether this resistance has a unique origin with the same molecular basis or is multifactorial. Knowledge of the origin, mechanisms and evolution of resistance are crucial to designing successful resistance management strategies.
Results: Here, we established the resistance profile of a Zambian An. funestus population at the northern range of the resistance front. Similar to other Southern African populations, Zambian An. funestus mosquitoes are resistant to pyrethroids and carbamate, but in contrast to populations in Mozambique and Malawi, these insects are also DDT resistant. Genome-wide microarray-based transcriptional profiling and qRT-PCR revealed that the cytochrome P450 gene CYP6M7 is responsible for extending pyrethroid resistance northwards. Indeed, CYP6M7 is more over-expressed in Zambia [fold-change (FC) 37.7; 13.2 for qRT-PCR] than CYP6P9a (FC15.6; 8.9 for qRT-PCR) and CYP6P9b (FC11.9; 6.5 for qRT-PCR), whereas CYP6P9a and CYP6P9b are more highly over-expressed in Malawi and Mozambique. Transgenic expression of CYP6M7 in Drosophila melanogaster coupled with in vitro assays using recombinant enzymes and assessments of kinetic properties demonstrated that CYP6M7 is as efficient as CYP6P9a and CYP6P9b in conferring pyrethroid resistance. Polymorphism patterns demonstrate that these genes are under contrasting selection forces: the exceptionally diverse CYP6M7 likely evolves neutrally, whereas CYP6P9a and CYP6P9b are directionally selected. The higher variability of CYP6P9a and CYP6P9b observed in Zambia supports their lesser role in resistance in this country.
Conclusion: Pyrethroid resistance in Southern Africa probably has multiple origins under different evolutionary forces, which may necessitate the design of different resistance management strategies.