Paula Rozo-Lopez, Barbara S. Drolet

Culicoides-Specific Fitness Increase of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus in Insect-to-Insect Infections

  • Insect Science

Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) is an arthropod-borne virus affecting livestock. In the United States, sporadic outbreaks result in significant economic losses. During epizootics, Culicoides biting midges are biological vectors and key to the geographic expansion of outbreaks. Additionally, Culicoides may play a role in VSV overwintering because females and males are capable of highly efficient venereal transmission, despite their relatively low virus titers. We hypothesized that VSV propagated within a midge has increased fitness for subsequent midge infections. To evaluate the potential host-specific fitness increase, we propagated three viral isolates of VSV in porcine skin fibroblasts and Culicoides cell lines. We then evaluated the viral infection dynamics of the different cell-source groups in Culicoides sonorensis. Our results indicate that both mammalian- and insect-derived VSV replicate well in midges inoculated via intrathoracic injection, thereby bypassing the midgut barriers. However, when the virus was required to infect and escape the midgut barrier to disseminate after oral acquisition, the insect-derived viruses had significantly higher titers, infection, and dissemination rates than mammalian-derived viruses. Our research suggests that VSV replication in Culicoides cells increases viral fitness, facilitating midge-to-midge transmission and subsequent replication, and further highlights the significance of Culicoides midges in VSV maintenance and transmission dynamics.

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