The Antiviral Small-Interfering RNA Pathway Induces Zika Virus Resistance in Transgenic Aedes aegypti

A. E. Williams, I. Sanchez-Vargas, W. R. Reid, J. Y. Lin, A. W. E. Franz and K. E. Olson,  Viruses,  12:18. 2020.

The resurgence of arbovirus outbreaks across the globe, including the recent Zika virus (ZIKV) epidemic in 2015-2016, emphasizes the need for innovative vector control methods. In this study, we investigated ZIKV susceptibility to transgenic Aedes aegypti engineered to target the virus by means of the antiviral small-interfering RNA (siRNA) pathway. The robustness of antiviral effector expression in transgenic mosquitoes is strongly influenced by the genomic insertion locus and transgene copy number; we therefore used CRISPR/Cas9 to re-target a previously characterized locus (Chr2:321382225) and engineered mosquitoes expressing an inverted repeat (IR) dsRNA against the NS3/4A region of the ZIKV genome. Small RNA analysis revealed that the IR effector triggered the mosquito’s siRNA antiviral pathway in bloodfed females. Nearly complete (90%) inhibition of ZIKV replication was found in vivo in both midguts and carcasses at 7 or 14 days post-infection (dpi). Furthermore, significantly fewer transgenic mosquitoes contained ZIKV in their salivary glands (p = 0.001), which led to a reduction in the number of ZIKV-containing saliva samples as measured by transmission assay. Our work shows that Ae. aegypti innate immunity can be co-opted to engineer mosquitoes resistant to ZIKV.

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