"This appears to be a new mechanism by which the mosquito is anticipating a parasite infection," said study co-author Michael Povelones, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

A greater understanding of how mosquitoes naturally fight off infection could offer a strategy for preventing humans from getting infected with those same pathogens.

"If we can use that information to our advantage, we might be able to find new avenues of preventing mosquitoes from transmitting disease,"  Povelones pointed out.

Researchers already knew that a group of molecules called leucine-rich repeat immune proteins, or LRIMs, were important players in mosquitoes' immune defense.In the current study, the researchers wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what the other identified LRIM proteins--there are at least two dozen--did for mosquito immunity.

From their tests, one protein, LRIM9, stood out. When it was blocked, parasite levels in the mosquitoes increased three-fold. And they found that adult females had the highest expression levels of LRIM9, with more than 20 times the amount of LRIM9 as adult males.

Adult females are the only mosquitoes that drink blood. LRIM9 may help the mosquito immune system recognise pathogens and may also recruit or interact with other immune system components, the researchers noted.

The study appeared in the Journal of Innate Immunity.

 

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