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Insect immunity: Oral exposure to a bacterial pathogen elicits free radical response and protects from a recurring infection

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Abstract

Background: Previous exposure to a pathogen can help organisms cope with recurring infection. This is widely recognised in vertebrates, but increasing occasions are also being reported in invertebrates where this phenomenon is referred to as immune priming. However, the mechanisms that allow acquired pathogen resistance in insects remain largely unknown.Results: We studied the priming of bacterial resistance in the larvae of the tiger moth, Parasemia plantaginis using two gram-negative bacteria, a pathogenic Serratia marcescens and a non-pathogenic control, Escherichia coli. A sublethal oral dose of S. marcescens provided the larvae with effective protection against an otherwise lethal septic infection with the same pathogen five days later. At the same time, we assessed three anti-bacterial defence mechanisms from the larvae that had been primarily exposed to the bacteria via contaminated host plant. Results showed that S. marcescens had induced a higher amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the larval haemolymph, possibly protecting the host from the recurring infection.Conclusions: Our study supports the growing evidence of immune priming in insects. It shows that activation of the protective mechanism requires a specific induction, rather than a sheer exposure to any gram-negative bacteria. The findings indicate that systemic pathogen recognition happens via the gut, and suggest that persistent loitering of immune elicitors or anti-microbial molecules are a possible mechanism for the observed prophylaxis. The self-harming effects of ROS molecules are well known, which indicates a potential cost of increased resistance. Together these findings could have important implications on the ecological and epidemiological processes affecting insect and pathogen populations. © 2014 Mikonranta et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

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Mikonranta, L., Mappes, J., Kaukoniitty, M., & Freitak, D. (2014). Insect immunity: Oral exposure to a bacterial pathogen elicits free radical response and protects from a recurring infection. Frontiers in Zoology, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-9994-11-23

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