Bacterial recognition in the lepidopteran insect, Manduca sexta, is mediated by pattern recognition proteins including Hemolin, Peptidoglycan recognition protein (PGRP) and Immulectin-2. These proteins bind to molecular patterns present on the surface of bacteria and trigger a protective response involving humoral and cellular reactions. Cellular mechanisms mediated by haemocytes include phagocytosis, encapsulation, and the formation of melanotic nodules. Here, we show that a non-pathogenic strain of Escherichia coli induces mRNA transcription and protein expression of Hemolin and PGRP but not Immulectin-2 in Manduca haemocytes. This upregulation can be effectively prevented (knocked-down) using RNA interference (RNAi) following injection of double-stranded (ds) RNA. Knock-down of Hemolin significantly decreased the ability of insects to clear E. coli from the haemolymph and caused a reduction in the number of free haemocytes. RNAi of Hemolin reduced the ability of haemocytes to engulf bacteria through phagocytosis and to form melanotic nodules in vivo. Importantly, washed haemocytes taken from RNAi-treated insects showed reduced ability to form microaggregates around bacteria in vitro. This shows that the immune function affected by RNAi knock-down of Hemolin is intrinsic to the haemocytes. In contrast, RNAi of PGRP had no effect on any of these cellular immune functions. These results demonstrate the vital role of Hemolin in Manduca cellular immune responses.
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