Transmission of Rift Valley fever virus from European-breed lambs to Culex pipiens mosquitoes
Background Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a mosquito-borne bunyavirus of the genus Phlebovirus that is highly pathogenic to ruminants and humans. The disease is currently confined to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but globalization and climate change may facilitate introductions of the virus into currently unaffected areas via infected animals or mosquitoes. The consequences of such an introduction will depend on environmental factors, the availability of susceptible ruminants and the capacity of local mosquitoes to transmit the virus. We have previously demonstrated that lambs native to the Netherlands are highly susceptible to RVFV and we here report the vector competence of Culex (Cx.) pipiens, the most abundant and widespread mosquito species in the country. Vector competence was first determined after artificial blood feeding of laboratory-reared mosquitoes using the attenuated Clone 13 strain. Subsequently, experiments with wild-type RVFV and mosquitoes hatched from field-collected eggs were performed. Finally, the transmission of RVFV from viremic lambs to mosquitoes was studied. Principal findings Artificial feeding experiments using Clone 13 demonstrated that indigenous, laboratory-reared Cx. pipiens mosquitoes are susceptible to RVFV and that the virus can be transmitted via their saliva. Experiments with wild-type RVFV and mosquitoes hatched from field-collected eggs confirmed the vector competence of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes from the Netherlands. To subsequently investigate transmission of the virus under more natural conditions, mosquitoes were allowed to feed on RVFV-infected lambs during the viremic period. We found that RVFV is efficiently transmitted from lambs to mosquitoes, although transmission was restricted to peak viremia. Interestingly, in the mosquito-exposed skin samples, replication of RVFV was detected in previously unrecognized target cells. Significance We here report the vector competence of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes from the Netherlands for RVFV. Both laboratory-reared mosquitoes and well as those hatched from field-collected eggs were found to be competent vectors. Moreover, RVFV was transmitted efficiently from indigenous lambs to mosquitoes, although the duration of host infectivity was found to be shorter than previously assumed. Interestingly, analysis of mosquito-exposed skin samples revealed previously unidentified target cells of the virus. Our findings underscore the value of including natural target species in vector competence experiments.