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Open Access Research

Reduction in host-finding behaviour in fungus-infected mosquitoes is correlated with reduction in olfactory receptor neuron responsiveness

Justin George1, Simon Blanford12, Michael J Domingue1, Matthew B Thomas12, Andrew F Read12 and Thomas C Baker1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA

2 Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA

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Malaria Journal 2011, 10:219  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-219

Published: 3 August 2011

Abstract

Background

Chemical insecticides against mosquitoes are a major component of malaria control worldwide. Fungal entomopathogens formulated as biopesticides and applied as insecticide residual sprays could augment current control strategies and mitigate the evolution of resistance to chemical-based insecticides.

Methods

Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes were exposed to Beauveria bassiana or Metarhizium acridum fungal spores and sub-lethal effects of exposure to fungal infection were studied, especially the potential for reductions in feeding and host location behaviours related to olfaction. Electrophysiological techniques, such as electroantennogram, electropalpogram and single sensillum recording techniques were then employed to investigate how fungal exposure affected the olfactory responses in mosquitoes.

Results

Exposure to B. bassiana caused significant mortality and reduced the propensity of mosquitoes to respond and fly to a feeding stimulus. Exposure to M. acridum spores induced a similar decline in feeding propensity, albeit more slowly than B. bassiana exposure. Reduced host-seeking responses following fungal exposure corresponded to reduced olfactory neuron responsiveness in both antennal electroantennogram and maxillary palp electropalpogram recordings. Single cell recordings from neurons on the palps confirmed that fungal-exposed behavioural non-responders exhibited significantly impaired responsiveness of neurons tuned specifically to 1-octen-3-ol and to a lesser degree, to CO2.

Conclusions

Fungal infection reduces the responsiveness of mosquitoes to host odour cues, both behaviourally and neuronally. These pre-lethal effects are likely to synergize with fungal-induced mortality to further reduce the capacity of mosquito populations exposed to fungal biopesticides to transmit malaria.