Baculovirus infection triggers a positive phototactic response in caterpillars to induce ‘tree-top’ disease

Published on
January 5, 2015

Many parasites manipulate host behaviour to enhance parasite transmission and survival. A fascinating example is baculoviruses, which often induce death in caterpillar hosts at elevated positions (‘tree-top’ disease). To date, little is known about the underlying processes leading to this adaptive host manipulation. Here, we show that the baculovirus Spodoptera exigua multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (SeMNPV) triggers a positive phototactic response in S. exigua larvae prior to death and causes the caterpillars to die at elevated positions. This light-dependent climbing behaviour is specific for infected larvae, as movement of uninfected caterpillars during larval development was light-independent. We hypothesize that upon infection, SeMNPV captures a host pathway involved in phototaxis and/or light perception to induce this remarkable behavioural change.