Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes are a globally widespread vector of multiple human and animal pathogens, including West Nile virus, Saint Louis encephalitis virus, and lymphatic filariasis. Since the introduction of West Nile virus to the United States in 1999, a cumulative 52,532 cases have been reported to the CDC, including 25,849 (49.2%) neuroinvasive cases and 2456 (5%) deaths. Viral infections elicit immune responses in their mosquito vectors, including the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway considered to be the cornerstone antiviral response in insects. To investigate mosquito host genes involved in pathogen interactions, CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene-editing can be used for functional studies of mosquito-derived cell lines. Yet, the tools available for the study of Cx. quinquefasciatus-derived (Hsu) cell lines remain largely underdeveloped compared to other mosquito species. In this study, we constructed and characterized a Culex-optimized CRISPR/Cas9 plasmid for use in Hsu cell cultures. By comparing it to the original Drosophila melanogaster CRISPR/Cas9 plasmid, we showed that the Culex-optimized plasmid demonstrated highly efficient editing of the genomic loci of the RNAi proteins Dicer-2 and PIWI4 in Hsu cells. These new tools support our ability to investigate gene targets involved in mosquito antiviral response, and thus the future development of gene-based vector control strategies.
Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; Culex; gene editing; mosquitoes.