Immunity in lepidopteran insects

Haobo Jiang, Andreas Vilcinskas, Michael R Kanost
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 2010, 708: 181-204
Lepidopteran insects provide important model systems for innate immunity of insects, particularly for cell biology of hemocytes and biochemical analyses of plasma proteins. Caterpillars are also among the most serious agricultural pests, and understanding of their immune systems has potential practical significance. An early response to infection in lepidopteran larvae is the activation of hemocyte adhesion, leading to phagocytosis, nodule formation, or encapsulation. Plasmatocytes and granular cells are the hemocyte types involved in these responses. Infectious microorganisms are recognized by binding of hemolymph plasma proteins to microbial surface components. This "pattern recognition" triggers phagocytosis and nodule formation, activation of prophenoloxidase and melanization and the synthesis of antimicrobial proteins that are secreted into the hemolymph. Many hemolymph proteins that function in such innate immune responses of insects were first discovered in lepidopterans. Microbial proteinases and nucleic acids released from lysed host cells may also activate lepidopteran immune responses. Hemolymph antimicrobial peptides and proteins can reach high concentrations and may have activity against a broad spectrum of microorganisms, contributing significantly to clearing of infections. Serine proteinase cascade pathways triggered by microbial components interacting with pattern recognition proteins stimulate activation of the cytokine Spätzle, which initiates the Toll pathway for expression of antimicrobial peptides. A proteinase cascade also results inproteolytic activation of phenoloxidase and production of melanin coatings that trap and kill parasites and pathogens. The proteinases in hemolymph are regulated by specific inhibitors, including members of the serpin superfamily. New developments in lepidopteran functional genomics should lead to much more complete understanding of the immune systems of this insect group.

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