Honey bee antiviral defense mechanisms at the individual and cellular level


Honey bees are important pollinators of fruit, nut, and vegetable crops that constitute a large proportion of the human diet. Unfortunately, annual honey bee colony losses are high, averaging 38% from 2008-2018 in the United States. Honey bee colony losses are attributed to multiple factors, including pathogens and chemical exposure. Virus incidence and abundance have been associated with colony losses. The majority of honey bee viruses are positive-sense single stranded RNA viruses. Honey bees antiviral defense include RNA interference (RNAi), a double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggered sequence-specific post-transcriptional silencing mechanism and a non-sequence specific dsRNA-triggered pathway. In addition, signal transduction cascades include the Toll, Imd, and Jak/STAT pathways that promote the expression of honey bee immune response genes that are also induced in response to virus infections. To investigate the impact of chemical exposure on honey bee immune responses and virus infections, we infected bees with a panel of viruses including two model viruses (i.e., Flock House virus (FHV) and Sindbis-GFP) and a naturally infecting honey bee virus, deformed wing virus (DWV) and fed them sucrose syrup containing either thyme oil, a beekeeper applied fungicide Fumagilin-B ®, or the insecticide clothianidin. We determined that bees fed thyme oil augmented sucrose syrup exhibited greater expression of key immune genes, i.e., ago2, dcr-like, abaecin, hymenoptaecin, and vitellogenin and reduced virus abundance compared to virus-infected bees fed sucrose syrup. Whereas, virus-infected honey bees fed diets containing fumagillin or clothianidin exhibited reduced expression of key immune genes and higher virus abundance suggesting that chemical stressors act as immunosuppressors in honey bees. To understand the interplay of viruses and host cell gene expression more precisely, we cultured primary honey bee cells derived from larvae (i.e., hemocytes, immune cells) or pupae (i.e., mixed cell population including epithelial cells, adipocytes, muscle cells, hemocytes) and demonstrated that these cells supported replication of sacbrood virus, DWV, and FHV. Expression of select immune genes, including bap1, ago2, and dcr-like, in virus-infected honey bee cells was similar to expression in individual bees and varied for each virus. Together, these data further our understanding of the honey bee antiviral defense network and provide new tools for studying honey bee host-virus interactions.




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