Mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting a number of highly dangerous diseases when they feed on human blood, but it has been noticed that once they have fed they no longer bite until their eggs are laid a few days later. A neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University wondered if this fact could be exploited in some way, and set out to see if it was possible to suppress a mosquito’s appetite. In humans, appetite-suppressant drugs target neuropeptide Y (NPY) receptors, and these are also involved in the food-seeking behaviour of many other animals. When the researchers fed mosquitoes with a solution containing NPY-activating drugs they found that they were less likely to approach a ‘lure’ than the control group, an effect that lasted for two days. Using CRISPR gene-editing they created mosquitoes with a mutation in the gene encoding the NPY-like receptor 7 protein and found that the drug no longer had any effect, suggesting that this gene was the key. Following this they worked on screening for compounds that could suppress the appetites of mosquitoes, but not humans, and identified six such potential compounds. Although there is still a large amount of work to be done (very high concentrations are needed; lures that mimic humans are costly and complicated; other insects may feed on the compounds in the wild; etc.) it certainly shows promise that transmission can be decreased.
— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow
- Duvall LB, et al. Small-Molecule Agonists of Ae. aegypti Neuropeptide Y Receptor Block Mosquito Biting. Cell. 2019; 176: 687-701.