Malaria has re-emerged as a global health problem, leading to an increased focus on the cellular and molecular biology of the mosquito Anopheles and the parasite Plasmodium with the goal of identifying novel points of intervention in the parasite life cycle. Anti-parasite defenses mounted by both mammalian hosts and Anopheles can suppress the growth of Plasmodium. Nonetheless, the parasite is able to escape complete elimination in vivo, perhaps by thwarting or co-opting these mechanisms for its own survival, as do numerous other pathogens. Among the defense systems used by the mammalian host against Plasmodium is the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO), catalyzed by an inducible NO synthase (iNOS). Nitric oxide produced by the action of an inducible Anopheles stephensi NO synthase (AsNOS) may be central to the anti-parasitic arsenal of this mosquito. In mammals, iNOS can be modulated by members of the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) cytokine superfamily. Transforming growth factor-β is produced as an inactive precursor that is activated following dissociation of certain inhibitory proteins, a process that can be promoted by reaction products of NO as well as by hemin. Ingestion by Anopheles of blood containing Plasmodium initiates parasite development, blood digestion which results in the accumulation of hematin (hemin) in the insect midgut, and induction of both AsNOS and TGF-β-like (As60A) gene expression in the midgut epithelium. Active mammalian TGF-β1 can be detected in the A. stephensi midgut up to 48h postingestion and latent TGF-β1 can be activated by midgut components in vitro, a process that is potentiated by NO and that may involve hematin. Further, mammalian TGF-β1 is perceived as a cytokine by A. stephensi cells in vitro and can alter Plasmodium development in vivo. Bloodfeeding by Anopheles, therefore, results in a juxtaposition of evolutionarily conserved mosquito and mammalian TGF-β superfamily homologs that may influence transmission dynamics of Plasmodium in endemic regions.
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