RNA interference (RNAi) was shown over 18 years ago to be a mechanism by which arbovirus replication and transmission could be controlled in arthropod vectors. During the intervening period, research on RNAi has defined many of the components and mechanisms of this antiviral pathway in arthropods, yet a number of unexplored questions remain.
RNAi refers to RNA-mediated regulation of gene expression.
Originally, the term described silencing of endogenous genes by introduction of exogenous double-stranded (ds)RNA with the same sequence as the gene to be silenced. Further research has shown that RNAi comprises three gene regulation pathways that are mediated by small RNAs: the small interfering (si)RNA, micro (mi)RNA, and Piwi-interacting (pi)RNA pathways. The exogenous (exo-)siRNA pathway is now recognized as a major antiviral innate immune response of arthropods. More recent studies suggest that the piRNA and miRNA pathways might also have important roles in arbovirus-vector interactions. This review will focus on current knowledge of the role of the exo-siRNA pathway as an arthropod vector antiviral response and on emerging research into vector piRNA and miRNA pathway modulation of arbovirus-vector interactions. Although it is assumed that arboviruses must evade the vector’s antiviral RNAi response in order to maintain their natural transmission cycles, the strategies by which this is accomplished are not well defined.
RNAi is also an important tool for arthropod gene knock-down in functional genomics studies and in development of arbovirus-resistant mosquito populations. Possible arbovirus strategies for evasion of RNAi and applications of RNAi in functional genomics analysis and arbovirus transmission control will also be reviewed.
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