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Deletion of the NSm Virulence Gene of Rift Valley Fever Virus Inhibits Virus Replication in and Dissemination from the Midgut of Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes
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    Background

    Previously, we investigated the role of the Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) virulence genes NSs and NSm in mosquitoes and demonstrated that deletion of NSm significantly reduced the infection, dissemination, and transmission rates of RVFV in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The specific aim of this study was to further characterize midgut infection and escape barriers of RVFV in Ae. aegypti infected with reverse genetics-generated wild type RVFV (rRVF-wt) or RVFV lacking the NSm virulence gene (rRVF-ΔNSm) by examining sagittal sections of infected mosquitoes for viral antigen at various time points post-infection.

    Methodology and Principal Findings

    Ae. aegypti mosquitoes were fed an infectious blood meal containing either rRVF-wt or rRVF-ΔNSm. On days 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 post-infection, mosquitoes from each experimental group were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde, paraffin-embedded, sectioned, and examined for RVFV antigen by immunofluorescence assay. Remaining mosquitoes at day 14 were assayed for infection, dissemination, and transmission. Disseminated infections were observed in mosquitoes as early as three days post infection for both virus strains. However, infection rates for rRVF-ΔNSm were statistically significantly less than for rRVF-wt. Posterior midgut infections in mosquitoes infected with rRVF-wt were extensive, whereas midgut infections of mosquitoes infected with rRVF-ΔNSm were confined to one or a few small foci.

    Conclusions/Significance

    Deletion of NSm resulted in the reduced ability of RVFV to enter, replicate, and disseminate from the midgut epithelial cells. NSm appears to have a functional role in the vector competence of mosquitoes for RVFV at the level of the midgut barrier.