Whereas studies have extensively examined the ability of bacteria to influence Plasmodium infection in the mosquito, the tripartite interactions between non-entomopathogenic fungi, mosquitoes, and Plasmodium parasites remain largely uncharacterized. Here we report the isolation of a common mosquito-associated ascomycete fungus, Penicillium chrysogenum, from the midgut of field-caught Anopheles mosquitoes. Although the presence of Pe. chrysogenum in the Anopheles gambiae midgut does not affect mosquito survival, it renders the mosquito significantly more susceptible to Plasmodium infection through a secreted heat-stable factor. We further provide evidence that the mechanism of the fungus-mediated modulation of mosquito susceptibility to Plasmodium involves an upregulation of the insect's ornithine decarboxylase gene, which sequesters arginine for polyamine biosynthesis. Arginine plays an important role in the mosquito's anti-Plasmodium defense as a substrate of nitric oxide production, and its availability therefore has a direct impact on the mosquito's susceptibility to the parasite. While this type of immunomodulatory mechanism has already been demonstrated in other host-pathogen interaction systems, this is the first report of a mosquito-associated fungus that can suppress the mosquito's innate immune system in a way that would favor Plasmodium infection and possibly malaria transmission.
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