Inhibition of JNK signaling in the Asian malaria vector <i>Anopheles stephensi</i> extends mosquito longevity and improves resistance to <i>Plasmodium falciparum</i> infection

by Lattha Souvannaseng, Lewis Vibul Hun, Heather Baker, John M. Klyver, Bo Wang, Nazzy Pakpour, Jordan M. Bridgewater, Eleonora Napoli, Cecilia Giulivi, Michael A. Riehle, Shirley Luckhart

Malaria is a global health concern caused by infection with Plasmodium parasites. With rising insecticide and drug resistance, there is a critical need to develop novel control strategies, including strategies to block parasite sporogony in key mosquito vector species. MAPK signaling pathways regulated by extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) and the stress-activated protein kinases (SAPKs) c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) and p38 MAPKs are highly conserved across eukaryotes, including mosquito vectors of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Some of these pathways in mosquitoes have been investigated in detail, but the mechanisms of integration of parasite development and mosquito fitness by JNK signaling have not been elucidated. To this end, we engineered midgut-specific overexpression of MAPK phosphatase 4 (MKP4), which targets the SAPKs, and used two potent and specific JNK small molecule inhibitors (SMIs) to assess the effects of JNK signaling manipulations on Anopheles stephensi fecundity, lifespan, intermediary metabolism, and P. falciparum development. MKP4 overexpression and SMI treatment reduced the proportion of P. falciparum-infected mosquitoes and decreased oocyst loads relative to controls. SMI-treated mosquitoes exhibited no difference in lifespan compared to controls, whereas genetically manipulated mosquitoes exhibited extended longevity. Metabolomics analyses of SMI-treated mosquitoes revealed insights into putative resistance mechanisms and the physiology behind lifespan extension, suggesting for the first time that P. falciparum-induced JNK signaling reduces mosquito longevity and increases susceptibility to infection, in contrast to previously published reports, likely via a critical interplay between the invertebrate host and parasite for nutrients that play essential roles during sporogonic development.

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