The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a major vector of chikungunya virus (CHIKV), which has no licensed vaccine. Engineered mosquitoes expressing long RNA hairpins (lhRNA) or small RNAs against selected arboviruses have been developed to limit virus replication, but their silencing efficiency has not been compared.

We developed lhRNA and short hairpin RNA (shRNA) arrays against CHIKV non-structural protein nsP2. We used a Tet-response element (TRE) and a tTA transactivator to control expression of lhRNAs (TRE-lhRNA) and shRNAs (TRE-shRNA). Constitutive expression in Aag2 cells was assessed with a PUb-tTA driverand midgut specific expression in transgenic mosquitoes was assessed using Carboxypeptidase A (AeCPA)-tTA as driver. In vitrointerference ability was determined with a CHIKV split replication system, and a synthetic luciferase reporter with mRNA containing the targeted CHIKV sequence (CHIK-FF). In vivo interference was tested by inserting the TRE-lhRNA and TRE-shRNA constructs into a AeCPA-tTA line so both constructs expressed from the same locus, and a TRE reporter line that expressed an AmCyan reporter with an N terminal CHIKV fusion (CHIK-AmC).

In Aag2 cells, shRNAs were more effective than lhRNA in silencing both the CHIKV split replication system (99.7%, S. D. ± 0.47 and 72.8%, S. D. ± 9.50, respectively, P<0.001) and CHIK-FF (98.8%, S. D. ± 0.71 and 50.9%, S. D. ± 7.92, respectively, P<0.05). Similar results were observed in transgenic mosquitoes when comparing AmC expression in the midgut.

This study demonstrates that, in mosquitoes, effectively chosen shRNAs can induce greater interference of the desired viral target than the corresponding lhRNA.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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