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Mosquito-borne diseases

Mosquito-borne viruses continue to impose serious global health burden despite decades of research.

Flavivirus infections:

Cultured mosquito cell line infected with Zika virus (red).
Flaviviruses (including Dengue virus, West Nile virus, Zika virus among many others) are responsible for morbidity and mortality throughout the world. We are examining how mosquito saliva components that bathe the pathogens provide an advantageous environment for viral transmission at the skin bite site, the microscopically small but vital nexus between the arthropod vector and the mammalian host. To that end, we have identified several mosquito proteins that alter the host immune response to facilitate flaviviral pathogenesis in murine models. Ultimately, our goals are to understand how mosquito saliva proteins contribute to viral dissemination and develop vaccines that inhibit transmission of multiple arboviruses by targeting proteins from commonly vectored mosquito species.


Malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases worldwide, with more than 200 million cases and approximately half a million deaths globally each year. It is caused by protozoa in the genus Plasmodium and mostly spread by Anopheles mosquitoes. Infection of the vertebrate host begins when an infected female mosquito inoculates Plasmodium sporozoites along with saliva into the skin. We have recently identified several mosquito salivary gland proteins that inhibit Plasmodium cell traversal and transmission. By employing various research tools and techniques including genomics, reverse genetics, molecular and cell biology, biochemistry and bioinformatics, our lab is interested in understanding the role of mosquito salivary proteins in the pathogenesis of malaria transmission and developing new vector-based malaria vaccines and therapeutics.
Laser scanning confocal fluorescent microscopy of Ixodes scapularis. Image provided by Sukanya Narasimhan.

Tick-borne diseases

Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Powassan fever, are major public health concerns, leaving an urgent need for vaccine development. Vaccines against each of the microbes that cause these diseases is one way to approach prevention. An alternative strategy is to target tick proteins, rather than the transmitted pathogens, as a way to prevent disease transmission. The goal of these vaccines is to neutralize the function of tick proteins essential for acquiring a blood meal, to cause erythema at the tick bite site so that tick recognition can occur rapidly, or to interfere with the function of tick proteins that enhance pathogen transmission. Our lab has recently identified several vaccine candidates in tick saliva. We have demonstrated that these proteins play an important role in suppressing inflammation at the tick bite site to enhance Borrelia transmission, both directly or indirectly. Importantly, vaccines targeting tick antigens are not pathogen specific, and therefore, could provide broad protection against diverse tick-borne microbes.