Many parasites manipulate host behavior to increase the probability of transmission. To date, direct evidence for parasitic genes underlying such behavioral manipulations is scarce.
Here we show that the baculovirus Autographa californica nuclear polyhedrovirus (AcMNPV) induces hyperactive behavior in Spodoptera exigua larvae at three days after infection. Furthermore, we identify the viral protein tyrosine phosphatase (ptp) gene as a key player in the induction of hyperactivity in larvae, and show that mutating the catalytic site of the encoded phosphatase enzyme prevents this induced behavior. Phylogenetic inference points at a lepidopteran origin of the ptp gene and shows that this gene is well-conserved in a group of related baculoviruses. Our study suggests that ptp-induced behavioral manipulation is an evolutionarily conserved strategy of this group of baculoviruses to enhance virus transmission, and represents an example of the extended phenotype concept. Overall, these data provide a firm base for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind baculovirus-induced insect behavior.
Stineke van Houte1, Vera I. D. Ros1, Tom G. Mastenbroek1¤, Nadia J. Vendrig2, Kelli Hoover3, Jeroen Spitzen4, Monique M. van Oers1*