Dengue and Zika viruses make people more delicious to mosquitoes

Dengue and Zika viruses make people more delicious to mosquitoes

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Dengue or Zika viruses secrete a chemical that can make them more attractive to mosquitoes, the vector that transmits both viruses. It is revealed by a study published in “Cell”, which also shows a way to reduce the release of said substance in mice and thus make mosquito bites less frequent: the key is in an acne medication.

Nearly half of the world’s population lives in dengue risk areas, and due to lack of treatment, many dengue-affected regions have high rates of morbidity and mortality.

Dengue and Zika viruses depend on mosquitoes to survive.

When healthy mosquitoes bite an infected host, they can become infected themselves and transmit the viruses to other animals. “Mosquitoes rely on their sense of smell to detect victims,” ​​says Gong Cheng, lead scientist on the project at Tsinghua University in China. «At the beginning of this study, we found that mosquitoes preferred to seek out and feed on mice infected with dengue and Zika».

To investigate why mosquitoes prefer infected hosts, the team performed a chemical analysis of odor samples from infected mice and humans. The group identified the culprit that makes them smell more “delicious” as acetophenone, which was present at an abnormally high level in infected people. This compound can also be found in many fruits and some cheeses.

“We found that flaviviruses [como el dengue y el zika] they can use the increased release of acetophenone to help themselves achieve their life cycles more effectively by making their hosts more attractive to vector mosquitoes,” Cheng said.

Cheng and his team investigated how dengue and Zika viruses increase the level of acetophenone, describing it as “a sophisticated interaction between the skin microbiota, flaviviruses, and host mosquitoes.”

If cells are winning, RELMα keeps acetophenone-producing bacteria at bayWe plan to administer isotretinoin in the diet of dengue patients to reduce acetophenone-mediated mosquito activity.

When a flavivirus invades a host, the virus enters into a tug-of-war with the host’s body cells to control the level of a key protein that regulates the composition of the skin microbiome: RELMα. If the cells are winning, RELMα keeps the acetophenone-producing bacteria at bay.

“Interestingly, both dengue and Zika viruses promoted the proliferation of acetophenone-producing skin bacteria by suppressing RELMα expression,” says Cheng.

As a result, some bacteria replicate excessively and produce more acetophenone. Suddenly, these sick individuals smell as delicious to mosquitoes as a tray of freshly baked cookies to a group of five-year-olds.

With a clearer understanding of how the flavivirus affects the skin microbiome, the team set out to find a way to help cells win the tug-of-war. After reviewing the existing RELMα literature, the group decided to test whether isotretinoin, a vitamin A derivative used as an acne medicationcan suppress acetophenone production.

The experiment was simple: feed the mice isotretinoin and put them in a cage with mosquitoes.

The authors found that mosquitoes did not feed on infected mice treated with isotretinoin any more than those that fed on uninfected animals. «Isotretinoin administration in flavivirus-infected animals reduced acetophenone volatilization by remodeling resident commensal bacteria on the host skin.says Cheng.

The experiment was simple: feed the mice isotretinoin and put them in a cage with mosquitoes.

In the future, Cheng and his team plan to apply their findings in the real world. “We plan to administer isotretinoin in the diet of dengue patients to reduce acetophenone-mediated mosquito activity,” says Cheng.

They are also attacking the problem from the mosquito side. “We plan to identify specific olfactory receptors for acetophenone in mosquitoes and remove the genes from the mosquito population using gene drive technology,” explains Cheng.

Without the receptors, mosquitoes will no longer be able to smell the acetophenone they love so much, possibly mitigating the spread of dengue and other flaviviruses.

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