Wolbachia-mediated resistance to Zika virus infection in Aedes aegypti is dominated by diverse transcriptional regulation and weak evolutionary pressures

E. C. Boehm, A. S. Jaeger, H. J. Ries, D. Castañeda, A. M. Weiler, C. C. Valencia, J. Weger-Lucarelli, G. D. Ebel, S. L. O’Connor, T. C. Friedrich, M. Zamanian and M. T. Aliota,  PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases,  17:e0011674. 2023.

A promising candidate for arbovirus control and prevention relies on replacing arbovirus-susceptible Aedes aegypti populations with mosquitoes that have been colonized by the intracellular bacterium Wolbachia and thus have a reduced capacity to transmit arboviruses. This reduced capacity to transmit arboviruses is mediated through a phenomenon referred to as pathogen blocking. Pathogen blocking has primarily been proposed as a tool to control dengue virus (DENV) transmission, however it works against a range of viruses, including Zika virus (ZIKV). Despite years of research, the molecular mechanisms underlying pathogen blocking still need to be better understood. Here, we used RNA-seq to characterize mosquito gene transcription dynamics in Ae. aegypti infected with the wMel strain of Wolbachia that are being released by the World Mosquito Program in Medellín, Colombia. Comparative analyses using ZIKV-infected, uninfected tissues, and mosquitoes without Wolbachia revealed that the influence of wMel on mosquito gene transcription is multifactorial. Importantly, because Wolbachia limits, but does not completely prevent, replication of ZIKV and other viruses in coinfected mosquitoes, there is a possibility that these viruses could evolve resistance to pathogen blocking. Therefore, to understand the influence of Wolbachia on within-host ZIKV evolution, we characterized the genetic diversity of molecularly barcoded ZIKV virus populations replicating in Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes and found that within-host ZIKV evolution was subject to weak purifying selection and, unexpectedly, loose anatomical bottlenecks in the presence and absence of Wolbachia. Together, these findings suggest that there is no clear transcriptional profile associated with Wolbachia-mediated ZIKV restriction, and that there is no evidence for ZIKV escape from this restriction in our system.

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