Bursicon is a neuropeptide hormone consisting of two cystine-knot proteins (burs α and burs β), responsible for cuticle tanning and other developmental processes in insects. Recent studies show that each bursicon subunit forms homodimers that induce prophylactic immunity in Drosophila melanogaster. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that bursicon homodimers act in prophylactic immunity in insects, and possibly arthropods, generally, using the mosquito, Aedes aegypti. We found that burs α and burs β are expressed in larvae, pupae and newly emerged adults. Treating newly emerged Ae. aegypti and D. melanogaster adults with recombinant bursicon (r-bursicon) heterodimer led to cuticle tanning in both species. Treating larvae and adults with r-bursicon homodimers led to up-regulation of five anti-microbial peptide (AMP) genes, noting the possibility that bursicon heterodimers also lead to up-regulation of these genes can not been excluded. The induced AMPs effectively suppressed the growth of bacteria in vitro. RNAi knock-down of the transcriptional factor Relish2 abolished the influence of r-bursicon homodimers on AMP production. We infer the bursicon homodimers induce expression of AMP genes via Relish2 in Ae. aegypti, as prophylactic immunity to protect mosquitoes during the vulnerable stages of each molt.
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