The saliva of mosquitoes infected with dengue viruses contains a substance that thwarts the human immune system and makes it easier for people to become infected with these potentially deadly viruses, new research reveals.
Dengue has spread in recent years to Europe and the Southern United States in addition to longstanding hotspots in tropical and subtropical areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. The new discovery, from a University of Virginia School of Medicine scientist and his collaborators, helps explain why the disease is so easily transmitted and could eventually lead to new ways to prevent infection.
“It is remarkable how clever these viruses are – they subvert mosquito biology to tamp down our immune responses so that infection can take hold,” said Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco, MD, PhD, who recently joined UVA as chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology. “There is no doubt in my mind that better understanding of the fundamental biology of transmission will eventually lead to effective transmission-blocking measures.”
Further, Garcia-Blanco suspects that researchers will find similar immune-dampening substances accompanying other mosquito-borne infections such as Zika, West Nile and yellow fever. “Our findings are almost certainly going to be applicable to infections with other flaviviruses,” Garcia-Blanco said. “The specific molecules here are unlikely to apply to malaria, but the concept is generalizable to viral infections.”
Read full press release in UVA Health Newsroom.