Targeting mosquito spit to halt Yellow Fever, Dengue and Zika

A molecule in mosquito spit has been identified as a potential new target for vaccination against a range of diseases for which there is no protection or medicine.

University of Leeds Virus Host Interaction Team researchers have discovered that the molecule, called sialokinin, makes it easier for a number of viruses to pass from mosquitoes to human, where they can then take hold — leading to unpleasant and potentially deadly diseases.

These viruses include Yellow Fever, which causes serious illness in around 15% of people infected; dengue, which can develop into the potentially fatal disease dengue fever, and Zika, which caused a global medical emergency in 2016.

Previous research determined that sialokinin was able to alter the function of blood vessel cells grown in a lab, allowing increased blood flow and more effective feeding for the mosquito. But experts did not know what role it played in helping the virus to infect the body.

Inspecting the behaviour of sialokinin on skin cells from mice, the team discovered that the molecule causes blood vessels to become permeable, allowing contents to leak out into the skin — which inadvertently helps viruses to infect the host.

Research supervisor Dr Clive McKimmie, Associate Professor in the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, said: “We have identified sialokinin as a key component within mosquito saliva that worsens infection in the mammalian host.

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