Parasitoid Jewel Wasp Mounts Multipronged Neurochemical Attack to Hijack a Host Brain

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2019 Jan;18(1):99-114. doi: 10.1074/mcp.RA118.000908. Epub 2018 Oct 6.


The parasitoid emerald jewel wasp Ampulex compressa induces a compliant state of hypokinesia in its host, the American cockroach Periplaneta americana through direct envenomation of the central nervous system (CNS). To elucidate the biochemical strategy underlying venom-induced hypokinesia, we subjected the venom apparatus and milked venom to RNAseq and proteomics analyses to construct a comprehensive "venome," consisting of 264 proteins. Abundant in the venome are enzymes endogenous to the host brain, including M13 family metalloproteases, phospholipases, adenosine deaminase, hyaluronidase, and neuropeptide precursors. The amphipathic, alpha-helical ampulexins are among the most abundant venom components. Also prominent are members of the Toll/NF-κB signaling pathway, including proteases Persephone, Snake, Easter, and the Toll receptor ligand Spätzle. We find evidence that venom components are processed following envenomation. The acidic (pH∼4) venom contains unprocessed neuropeptide tachykinin and corazonin precursors and is conspicuously devoid of the corresponding processed, biologically active peptides. Neutralization of venom leads to appearance of mature tachykinin and corazonin, suggesting that the wasp employs precursors as a prolonged time-release strategy within the host brain post-envenomation. Injection of fully processed tachykinin into host cephalic ganglia elicits short-term hypokinesia. Ion channel modifiers and cytolytic toxins are absent in A. compressa venom, which appears to hijack control of the host brain by introducing a "storm" of its own neurochemicals. Our findings deepen understanding of the chemical warfare underlying host-parasitoid interactions and in particular neuromodulatory mechanisms that enable manipulation of host behavior to suit the nutritional needs of opportunistic parasitoid progeny.

Keywords: Host; Mass Spectrometry; Neurobiology; Neuropeptide; Parasitoid; Proteases; Proteogenomics; Transcription; Venoms; Wasp.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / parasitology
  • Cockroaches / metabolism
  • Cockroaches / parasitology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Proteomics / methods
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Wasp Venoms / genetics
  • Wasp Venoms / metabolism*


  • Insect Proteins
  • Wasp Venoms