If you were about to enter a crowded subway during flu season, packed with people sneezing and coughing, wouldn't it be helpful if your immune system recognized the potentially risky situation and bolstered its defenses upon stepping into the train? According to a new study by University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Imperial College London researchers, the mosquito immune system does something very similar. After ingesting a meal of blood, mosquitoes ramp up production of immune system proteins that help fight off the parasites that blood might contain. "This appears to be a new mechanism by which the mosquito is anticipating a parasite infection," said Dr. Michael Povelones, an Assistant Professor in Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, who co-authored the study. Dr. Povelones collaborated on the work, published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Innate Immunity, with Imperial College London researchers Dr. Leanna M. Upton, a research associate, and Dr. George K. Christophides, a Professor and Chair of Infectious Diseases and Immunity. Dr. Povelones has spent many years studying the interplay between mosquitoes and parasites. While it's easy to think about mosquitoes as a mere portal for shuttling malaria and other diseases from one person to another, the insects themselves have their own immune response to infection. A greater understanding of how mosquitoes naturally fight off infection could offer a strategy for preventing humans from getting infected with those same pathogens. "With malaria and other vector-borne diseases, we're faced with problems of not having effective vaccines, [of] drug-resistant parasites, and [of] insecticide-resistant vectors. But, as it turns out, mosquitoes do a great job of controlling infection in their own bodies," said Dr. Povelones.
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